The post ‘India’s Worst Journalists’ of August 2010 still remains a popular one on this site. That says a lot of what people generally think of our media celebs.Here’s what I wrote then about Shekhar Gupta, the Editor of Indian Express:"He is the chief of a fast-sinking newspaper and bides his free time (of which he has a lot) in a mundane program called "Walk the talk" on NDTV. Voters found a lot of similarities to BBC's 'Simpson's World' but lacking in any substance. Much of the interviews or discussions on this program is a platform to scratch the back of the interviewee. If you are looking for any serious questions or answers this is certainly not a program for you. In fact, some voters have very strongly suggested that the title of the program should be called 'Time Pass”.
Ramnath Goenka must surely be having sleepless eternity where ever he is with the current state of affairs at the IE. A newspaper that was strongly anti-establishment, stood for courage in reporting and exposed many a misdeed has now been reduced to a doormat and mouthpiece for the Congress. One should read the series ‘Indira as Commerce’ by Arun Shourie which unseated A.R. Antulay as CM of Maharashtra or the IE stories of the Bhagalpur blindings which still stand as India’s best investigative reporting. All that is past. Today there are two IEs. One is Indian Express and the other is the New Indian Express. NIE has a decent circulation of around 2 million, mostly in the South while IE is negligibly sold mostly in the North and West with negligible circulation.
Kingfisher Airlines has been in the news for quite some time now with its financial mess. There was news about SBI willing to bail out Kingfisher but it backed off owing to protests by its own unions. So KFA is currently stranded with its wings clipped. If the Govt. were to step in and bail out KFA, that too is sure to generate a lot of heat and protests. I don’t have financial information about Shekhar Gupta’s IE but I have little doubt that it is being regularly bailed out and on oxygen supplied by the Govt. Of India (GOI). And since such generous doles to a newspaper are not clearly visible to the public, both the GOI and IE can get away with it. And the bank that bails out ‘friendly’ newspapers? Yes, it’s the Directorate of Advertising & Visual Publicity (DAVP). It falls under the I&B ministry, currently headed by Ms.Ambika Soni.
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I get at least 3 newspapers of which IE happens to be one. I usually only browse through them as most of the articles and news reports are already on the net before the paper hits you. Let’s take the main paper of IE for Sunday, March 25. What caught my attention was a piece titled “Reinventing Rahul” by Lord Hairstyle Icon. In a cursory glance I found mention of Bollywood and Joy Mukherjee here and there and quit reading further. One of my wiser choices. But what was difficult to escape noticing were three whopping colour ads. Heavy, expensive ads going by the sizes. Not sure, but I am quite certain that this in all-edition ad for the IE.
The IE edition of March 25 has a quarter page of matrimonials, five tender notices from various govt. bodies filling up another quarter page. That’s it! No other real ads of any substance. Let’s get to the colour part of the ads. There are three in-house ‘filler’ ads of IE itself . After that, all that IE had were three whopping colour ads by none other than the GOI.
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So what’s wrong with that? Well, none of the GOI ads aren’t about anything specific but a general awareness drive for ESIC, Ministry of Agriculture and Customs & Excise. Take a lot at the pics. If you were a commercial organisation valuing the money you spend on ads, would you really be advertising in the IE? With half-page and full-page ads? I seriously doubt that. But that’s not a problem for the GOI as it spends our money as doles for the friendliest of newspapers. I didn’t find the same ads in the TOI, which has a much larger circulation. So naturally, I wonder why this special love and affection by the GOI for Indian Express. Many in the business, even Aditya Sinha of DNA, will tell you how the DAVP works as a ‘Carrot and Stick’ organisation.
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It is for good reason that most media organisations have a special cell or people dedicated to managing and massaging the DAVP and State Information Departments. I have every reason to believe that in the competitive world of newspapers and TV it is hard to survive without GOI doles and bail-outs. This won’t be visible to the public eye therefore not as much outrage as a Kingfisher bail out. It is our hard earned money being spent mindlessly. All that a media outlet has to do is to surrender their soul to the Congress and their credibility to the devil. Staying alive is important. The GOI may be saving many other friendly newspapers and TV channels with our money. Saving Indian Express is one thing! Why should it be with wanton use of our money? The best part? One doesn't have to return these bail-outs, not even interest payments. It's free!