Goa journo’s sting to expose paid news. No wrongdoing, says Herald editor

26 Oct,2011

By A Correspondent

The phenomenon of paid content masquerading as news has been around for a long time. But the issue of ‘political paid news’ came under spotlight especially during the 2009 Lok Sabha elections.

On Tuesday, Mr Mayabhushan Nagvenkar, a journalist based in Goa, filed a complaint with the Press Council of India alleging that Herald, a leading newspaper in Goa, has been publishing “dubious ‘political’ interviews of aspiring candidates, ahead of the forthcoming assembly elections scheduled for early 2012”.

With such instances being brought to light, a report compiled by the Press Council of India appointed sub-committee comprising Paranjoy Guha Thakurta and Kalimekolam Sreenivas Reddy “to examine the phenomenon of paid news in the Lok Sabha elections” gains more prominence.

(The full report can be found at http://presscouncil.nic.in/reportPaidNews.htm.)

The report states that in the area of political paid news, it is not easy to find evidence that pins responsibility for such corrupt practices on particular persons and organizations due to its illegal and clandestine nature.

But Mr Nagvenkar has backed his claim with records of four telephonic conversations with Herald’s marketing manager Mr Tulsidas Desai, three of which were recorded on October 20 and one on October 22. The conversations, he says, indicate that the newspaper regularly indulges in such paid political news. He also alleges that the marketing manager of the paper could not have pushed a deal like this without the consent, “tacit or otherwise”, of the editorial leadership.

The report also makes a note of Election Commission’s concern about the latest complaint  that some of the newspapers even offer packages at hefty sums, offering specific services such as projecting the image of a political party or a candidate in a positive manner or giving negative publicity to the rival party or candidate. The rates of such packages vary, depending upon the standing and circulation of the newspaper in the area covered by the constituency.

Mr Nagvenkar gave credence to the Election Commission’s concerns recently when, posing as Bernard Costa, a fictitious person seeking to contest elections from the Velim assembly constituency in South Goa, contacted Mr Desai and asked about getting a political campaign interview published as news content.

“Desai told me, (Bernard Costa), that I could get a political campaign interview (15 inches by eight news columns, to be exact) in the newspaper for Rs 86,400, and for an additional Rs 50,000, I could be interviewed on the Herald Cable Network (HCN), the local cable news channel operated by the same media group. None of the paid content will carry an ‘advertorial’ tag.”

Mr Desai further explained to Mr Nagvenkar about the interview of a potential electoral candidate, Mr Raymond D’Sa, which was published in the Herald on October 20 and which had cost Mr D’Sa Rs 2 lakh.

Asked about the repercussions he might face after publishing such an article, Mr Nagvenkar replied that he is no stranger to the media banning him. But he hopes that the Press Council will issue strictures against the newspaper as “it’s an open and shut case and the evidence is irrefutable.”

(The full text of Mr Nagvenkar’s story can be found at www.paidnewsingoa.blogspot.com.)

When asked to reply to Mr Nagvenkar’s allegations, Mr Sujay Gupta, Editor, Herald said: “I wish to emphatically deny that any editorial content which has appeared in the Herald, without the “advertorial” tag line has been paid for.”

To Mr Nagvenkar’s claims of the editorial being in the know, Mr Gupta replied: “Editorial was not in the know of any such negotiations or discussions the marketing had with any candidate or anyone else. The stray remark that “editor people” would be in the know… is also incorrect”.

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