“The conventional approach is, therefore, imperfect since it does not capture the information that is of most relevance to teenagers and younger audiences. Advertisers or PR agencies have come to acquire a near monopoly of the information supply in these areas. Newspapers often have to rely on these sources of information for their copy. It is not unusual for newspapers to use leads from PR agencies to make their own copy. Professional news gatherers have long since ceased to treat PR agencies as anathema; indeed, many see them as an invaluable 'source'.”
The para above wasn’t written by me. It’s a quote from TOI’s article introducing Medianet in 2003. What exactly is Medianet? It replaces the PR firms planting articles in the media. TOI decided to do it themselves. So when you open your Sunday edition and look at the glossy supplements with a grand story on best wines (with pics of some top brands prominently featured) or the luxury-leather business you should know who’s been working really hard. Then there’s Private Treaties, another of TOI’s innovations. You should have known better; nothing is free at TOI. Want publicity for your movie? You pay TOI! Want a new launch reported? You pay TOI! Having a convention or a seminar and invite the press to cover? You pay TOI. Nothing is free! Being the leader, TOI’s frivolous practices have been quickly emulated by almost the entire media. And all this crap under the privilege of “journalism”.
Any genuine marketer will tell you advertising doesn’t sell. Publicity does! Sometimes even bad publicity sells (That’s why Bollywood often engineers controversies just before release of some movies). That’s why Arvind Kejriwal does a “nautanki” on the streets. Samir Jain learned from Richard Branson. You see, Branson didn’t have money to advertise or impress the press, so he undertook his own crazy stunts which the media had to report, for free. Samir Jain saw that as opportunity to make more money and that nothing should be reported free (read TOI Story). His brother Vineet Jain, who jointly runs the business, told New Yorker’s Ken Auletta: “We are not in the newspaper business, we are in the advertising business”. So what explains the following which appeared as a “Note to readers” by TOI on January 23, 2014 (edited excerpt)?
It is being said that this paper, after initially supporting AAP, has now 'turned' against it. We were prepared for this. We have been called pro-Congress, anti-Congress, pro-BJP, anti-BJP. We have been accused by some of being cheerleaders for Narendra Modi, and by others of running a campaign against him. And depending on who you listen to, we are either too soft or too hard on Rahul Gandhi. Truth is, we have no political masters, nor do we have any hidden agendas. The only side we take is that of our readers… We want to make India a better place for our children; we want them to grow up with hope, not despair. Our job is to inform, educate, entertain, guide, and above all, help every reader realise his or her full potential… We believe taxpayers have a right to expect that their money is spent honestly, prudently and wisely—instead of disappearing down the ratholes of sloth, corruption and political handouts. We believe natural resources need to be allocated fairly and transparently. We believe that business, when honestly conducted, is good for the nation. We believe in the creation of opportunity for the greatest number. We will support Modi, Rahul, Kejriwal and every other politician every time they do the right thing. But no one should expect a blank cheque from us. Our sole allegiance is to our reader, not to any politician or party.
Really? TOI cares about its readers? Then it gets even better! TOI wants to make India a better place for children? I apologise if you fell off your chair. It’s not your fault. Did TOI suddenly have an attack of conscience? We don’t know, we can only make a fair estimate. But what I can tell you with a certain amount of confidence is that money has to be behind the note. Nothing else drives TOI.
It is true that as India’s biggest advertising house TOI generates enough money and can withstand being bulldozed by politicians or political parties. But it is also true that some of their biggest advertisers do have political leanings. I cannot list all the crimes of TOI over the years but let me give one good example of how the reader is treated as a fool by this ad agency. A reader buys a paper and trusts the front page for the most important news of the day. Advertisers like the quarter page ad on the front page (usually at the bottom right) because the ad attains “news status” and is impossible to miss.
TOI thought what the hell; let’s make the ad the front page itself. This started sometime back and once in March 2010 it started with a full front page and went on through the inside pages as well for a new car brand. TOI doesn’t care about the irritation it causes the readers. Mind you, I am in no way suggesting ads shouldn’t be carried in an innovative manner but then don’t also brag about caring for readers if one is going to spam them on the front page. The practice of front page ads got better and better. The one on the left is a latest one from this month. There is something interesting about this. TOI realised that since their front page had become a “hoarding”, readers were smart enough to just pull out the whole page and dump it and not even bother looking at it. Now TOI feels a lot smarter, you know. So what they do now is use adhesive and paste that “hoarding” on top of the real “news front page” so you will have to tear it off before you get to the news page. Care for readers? Who are these scumbags fooling?
Now, where political nonsense of TOI is concerned the entire group, like many others, has been hounding the BJP and Narendra Modi in particular. I doubt anybody missed that. The most glaring example of this grand adventure would be that of the fake “Rambo” report after the Uttarakhand floods in June 2013. Anyone remember that? That bogus story was in the media for several days and played over and over again on TV. Now that page has disappeared but the clarification issued by TOI remains:
And that clarification was dumped in some inside page. LIE BIG, retract small. That’s the technique used. Based on this bogus report other group sidekicks of TOI also start writing blogs on their site with the hilarious lies. Here is one Prashant Panday who is trigger-happy to heap nonsense without much fact-checking:
Where did that Rambo come from? Salma reports it and Sabrina quotes it? Then this same Panday writes BJP claimed 11 lakhs attended Modi’s Patna rally under “bogus crowds”. I’m not sure this number has been claimed anywhere. Then Panday wrote crap about Arun Jaitley and then withdrew the article with a clarification stating his mumbo-jumbo was based on some other news reports. In short, peddling of sheer nonsense! Does TOI have an editor at all? And if that isn’t enough here is another one by TOI where it carries a silly article “Narendra Modi’s solar eclipse” laughably in two different pages by two different writers:
There is much more that can be dug out but that will only exhaust you. And they synchronise the whole campaign with their TV channel. Can TOI explain how it was honest to its readers and viewers when it carried a 19-part witch-hunt of Nitin Gadkari on TimesNow? Or have they already forgotten that? And now they claim they are politically non-aligned. And what are the great practices at TOI? Let’s get some more.
The PCI’s “Paid News” report was buried by the council till it was brought out by pressure and compulsion. Featuring prominently in that report was TOI, as the leader in bringing unethical practices to the news media. Both Private Treaties and Medianet received adverse mentions in that report. You can read the full report here. All their Medianet and Private Treaties related articles and supplements had scant respect for the readers and I would have to say “dishonest” to readers. So all this whining with our “allegiance is to our reader” can’t be taken even with a truck-load of salt. And where the voice of a reader or observer is adverse to TOI then they use their muscle-power to legally drown those voices. This action by TOI against a blogger called Aparajita Lath is worth a read. A young law student, all that Aparijita had done was write an article based on facts and information already in the public domain and nothing more. TOI bullies her but doesn’t take action against any of those powerful people she had quoted in her article.
Did TOI support AAP? Absolutely yes! But it is certainly not the only one. I have time and again pointed out that for over a year when the AAP was neither in govt nor opposition anywhere, their members were allowed a free ride to play the “monkey” and hurl abuses and mindless nonsense against Congress, BJP and against every politician of their choice without any responsibility. Slowly, it became clear that the primary target of AAP was BJP and not the Congress. Are we to believe that all the so called pundits and experts at TOI and Times Now are such idiots that they weren’t seeing all this? Rajdeep Sardesai wonders why this note by TOI. He may have to issue such a note himself one day because CNN-IBN group too has been promoting AAP for a long time. Ashutosh of IBN7 is proof of someone pretending to be a journalist while being a political activist.
TOI doesn’t give a damn about anything but money. So I would ask them to spare the moral sermon. This note to readers can come only for a few reasons. Circulation is falling and readers are seeing through their biased “advertisements” for some political party. A big advertiser must have threatened to pull all advertising if they “did not behave”. And last, but not the least, it is election season and some powerful political party may have threatened to pull out campaign ads if they “did not behave”. These are my estimates and can vary. But one thing is for sure as Vineet Jain said TOI is not in the news business but in the advertising business. Somewhere, the shoe of ads must be shrinking and it is probably starting to pinch.
PS: Please vote on the India’s worst journalists poll -2014 (Right margin of this page).