Saturday, May 23, 2009

" Show me the money....."

Ajay Goyal is a serious, independent candidate contesting for a Lok Sabha seat in Chandigarh. Never heard of him? Neither, probably, have a lot of people in Chandigarh because when it came to getting press coverage for his campaign he was faced with a simple message: If you want press, you have to pay.

So far, he says, he's been approached by about 10 people – some brokers and public relations managers acting on behalf of newspaper owners, some reporters and editors – with the message that he'll only get written about in the news pages for a fee. We're not talking advertising; we're talking news.
One broker offered three weeks of coverage in four newspapers for 10 lakh rupees ($20,000). A reporter and a photographer from a Chandigarh newspaper told him that for 1.5 lakh rupees ($3,000) for them and a further 3 lakh rupees ($6,000) for other reporters, they could guarantee coverage in up to five newspapers for two weeks.
"We would do good coverage for you," he says they told him. All of those who approached him either were from national Hindi language papers or regional papers, Mr. Goyal says.
“You want a front page photo for free? This is something people pay for.”
In one case, he went along to see what would happen: a press release he submitted full of falsehoods – claiming he had campaigned in places he had never been, for instance – ran verbatim. One thing he has never seen on his real campaign: a reporter there to cover the story.
"It's disappointing," Mr. Goyal says. "What good is literacy and education if people have no access to real news, investigation, skepticism or a questioning reporter."
At the nexus of corruption in India, the nation's newspapers usually play either vigilante cop exposing wrongdoing in the public interest (on a good day, at a few publications) or spineless patsy killing stories on the orders of powerful advertisers. Many papers also engage in practices that cross the ethical line between advertising and editorial in a way that is opaque, if not downright obscure, to readers.
But it is of another order of magnitude to see reporters, editors and newspaper owners holding the democratic process to ransom. A free (in every sense) press is an integral part of a vibrant democracy. A corrupt press is both symptom and perpetrator of a rotten democracy.
"I'm not saying all media is biased but there is a growing sense in people's minds that a lot of the media is biased," says Anil Bairwal, national coordinator of National Election Watch. "Some do it in a sublime manner and some do it openly."
So why are we surprised when the voter turnout is so low, despite the much-touted surge of political awareness among the young and post-Mumbai? It's all part and parcel of the public disgust with the political system and the pillars of the Establishment that support that system as well. For every newly-minted reform-minded, politically aware voter, there are probably hundreds of jaded citizens who just decide the heck with it.
How widespread is the practice of pay per say?
The best-known English-language dailies typically don't do it so blatantly, candidates and others involved in the elections say. Rather, those papers are more likely to hue closely to one major party or the other, making it tough for candidates who don't fit the papers' view of the world to be heard. But in the Hindi, Urdu and Gujarati media, to name a few, the practice is widespread, candidates say.
N. Gopalaswami, retired Chief Election Commissioner, says in an interview, "This is not something that can be ignored. It is not just a few apparent cases, it is much more than that."
He has heard of newspapers proferring a rate card - one price for positive coverage, another for not negative coverage. The commission heard complaints in both 2007 and 2008 about candidates being charged for coverage. Among them, the national Communist parties who don't have the deep coffers to spend on campaigns.
In Mumbai, a city appropriately geared to commerce, politicians are faced with multiple payment options. Consider these phrases from newspaper editors and brokers, which I culled from campaigners:
"You want a front page photo for free? This is something people pay for."
"If you want a picture in there or if you want a story, we have to be paid."
"We're going to publish the interview, but you need to buy 5,000 copies of our paper."
"1.2 lakhs ($2,400) for the next two weeks and I will take care of all that coverage."

—Paul Beckett is the WSJ's bureau chief in New Delhi


This appeared in the hallowed , well respected Wall Street Journal.... and made me hang my head in shame! Was I surprised?? Hell, no!! But to see it in cold print had me squirming. Exactly how the Indian press has been 'managed' , bought and thoroughly disgraced makes for hideous reading. Sadly, Paul has only touched the tip of the iceberg. Dig deeper and you will find the ugliest stories of corruption and compromise at the highest levels, from across the board - mighty television kingpins, newspaper barons, maamuli but influential journos ( not just the regional presswallas, but 'respected' names in the biz) everyone from top to bottom is up for sale. People willing to hawk their ethics - and the country - down the tube. One of the most trusted pillars in a democracy has traditionally been a free and incorruptible press. When that goes - what is left? The judiciary? One hears pretty grim stories about that arm as well.


All I can tell you is that yesterday's loopy mood has passed.... and I am feeling low. Not just about this expose ( bad as it makes us look), but about a column of mine that was not carried this morning by one of the prominent dailies I write for. This has never happened to me in over 30 years as a columnist. The weak and pathetic reason put forward by a junior lackey was that the opinion stated was too strong and given the current 'josh' of the Congress Party, the owners were scared of repercussions!! I have written a strong letter to the editor ( who was away when juniors took that amazing decision). Let me see what the person has to say.... but it is a sad indictment about the current state of affairs in India, if this sort of self-censorship kicks in from this point on. What was that line ... " they were asked to bend, but they chose to crawl." Watch this space for a follow up to this sordid saga...


ZB said...

yea, first one to comment. now let me read it. hehehehe

ZB said...

humm, that expresses your mood for sure. Yes, its sad, horrifying and mysterious how journos would go to any length for mere bucks. One wonders if all that is read on politics and politicians are true or just a segment of imagination of the journos. One also wonders what to believe and what not to.

Roshni said...

A nice,stimulating ,analytical and interesting post after a long time.

Zlaek said...

It sounds discomforting, more so to the youngsters like myself who are aspiring to enter the field. Very discouraging indeed.

Unknown said...
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Unknown said...

It does not surprise me. Once upon a time, I naively thought that a journalist is the epitome of truth, honesty and fearlessness. Slowly I understood that they are too human with all their strengths and weaknesses. They will cover the news but in their own way. The so called fearless weekly had suddenly withdrawn one interesting election story in a hurry with no explanations. Newspaper publications also have become like book publishers. Publishers wont touch a new writer on the horizon unless he or she is the progeny of some eminent personality or with a strong recommendation. It is all marketing and money making. It is not what one stands for anymore. It is what one is. They need advertisement revenue and that revenue comes from the pleased ones. Who would like to lose money anyway? Who would want to be the untouchable?

May 23, 2009 4:24 PM

Priyadarshini Karanjai said...

That is sad but not surprising. Why not post it here?! There goes 'freedom of speech, thought and expression'..

naval said...

me reading an article completely after a long time.......
This is a new sort of thing to me.
I go through different news papers and wat i find is that in all the issues the dailies will have an opinion and they write favoring that.
Many dailies respond to different issues differently, the party based dailies always justify the stand of their parties and justifies them.

Sanket Korgaonkar said...

I feel bad - you are obviously hurting - but it just draws home a point I made when u were all Gung Ho about praising the Indian informed voter!! Thats a myth. It is that regard that I said - give it 200 years and we might see education as it is supposed to be - and reap its benefits.

If you step out of India and read the international press coverage on India, you will see that the world doesn't consider us at par at all. Nope. Corruption is not a problem in India, it is a parallel government. So you have a failed judiciary, an over legislative under implemented code, a back in the dark ages 1800's police code following law enforcement branch, even the country's armed forces and neck deep in corruption, there is no political will nor long term vision, any party can not promise and deliver on election promises for having to form coalitions. And finally the citizens - who if they start to earn in relative plenty, will find every possible way to cheat the government of taxes. Is it a shocker that the poor would actually sell their votes???

So in summary, citizens, political branch, military branch, media, judiciary and law enforcement, infrastructure and technology - ALL HAVE FAILED.

It is not my intent to depress you further, but I'd rather have a realistic view than the myth your earlier posts tend to lean towards.

Sanket Korgaonkar said...

Oh! And De! I only recently found out you were a model first!! Wow! I mean - I have always known you as a writer. And sure enough time and again - I would go .... "Gosh! She is beautiful - Its an actual smart face" - shes not trying to be smart, thats her regular face!!

And then some time back there was a photograph of you and your daughter, and I was completely bowled over - it was an age defying - OMG Shes hott moment!! :D

So cheer up. Not all is lost, if we can come up with beauty and brains like you - we can always hope. There is ALWAYS hope. Albeit a fool's hope!

- Sanket

Unknown said...

All in all I agree with you Shobha.
Situation is getting worse in print media in India.
However you might like to reconsider you opinion about this gentleman from North India , Mr Ajay.
He is a good speaker no doubt. But his opinions?
His Opinion about Indian Media in the above article is poles apart from his opinion about the same in his speech @
Why such dichotomy? Where does he stand different from the typical political crowd ?
Accept this post or reject I respect your desk.

Harish said...

This newspaper thing is an open secret. PR agencies getting journos to write for a fee.. is what i had known since long.. but there is a difference between product and person. a distinct divide which they comfortably miss. Bombay Times has Media Net... which publishes page 3 Articles for a fee... but there is nothing "undercover" about it.. as they are open about media net.


how could teh daily not publish your article... you have ion years of experience and know what is right and what is wrong... well, and they do key in a disclaimer in the paper saying that the views are of the coloumist and not of the publication...

I hate the concept of censorship... how long are we going to be a nation of fools who get incited and excited by seeing or reading things..

I was told by someone i know that i should not speak openly about my sexuality as this would influence Indian Culture and his kids adversely. I smiled back and asked him if his culture was so loose that just by seeing me or reading about me or by speaking to me people could get influenced. In that case, his culture was Loose and Poor.

Anon said...

Coloumn please!! The net can be pretty effective. Give us a chance to circulate it big time to prove a point.
Hell its bloody pathetic whatever happened to freedom of speech, thought & expression?
The so called movers & shakers in the media need to listen & wise up fast or they just might find their credibility plummeting away.
I somehow have a feeling the juniors will be chastened & then informed that they should not sc@#w around with you! Cool but will anything else change?? The optimist in me says YES but my rational side says hmmmm maybe perhaps hopefully.........

Theyoginme said...

Sorry to hear. It doesn't surprise me one bit. Corruption permiates the Indian society and nobody wants to change the status quo. Hmmm but that arginent is true universally. Most people like to flock into a herd. Then there's the odball one who won't. You are one of them. Blog twitter and expand your audience here shobhaa. The technology is there. Expand and these press vallas will drop to their knees. I am sure there would be many techy who would love to figure out ways to build your traffic over say these corrupt news people. It's gonna happen soon. It's called the democratization of media. It's coming....

Sidhusaaheb said...

Mumbai-based documentary film-maker Anand Patwardhan wrote an article following the terrorist attacks in the city. The original is to be found at .

A 'sanitised' version of the article, which has been published in the Hindustan Times, can be accessed at .

A comparison of the two versions can help one understand as to how 'free' the press really is in this country.

Anonymous said...

Money is a paper value created in Mind.

Raefah said...

No wonder people are reading newspapers using Internet and Newspapers are losing revenues. They will learn when their readers dump them also; may be Congress Party will buy their newspaper!!! Just publish in your blog whether they publish or not (looks like junior and editor are playing bad cop n good cop game) !!! I am sure junior guy consulted the senior!!!

Maddy said...

Corruption within the Press is nothing new I guess. They support the govt to get more advertisement.Sensationalize something not even worth to mention. Ignore to mention real good things as well. Ultimately thats how business works right.

Take good care of yourself.

obssesor said...

m sure itz TOI, missed your column today.

Unknown said...

Stardust owes its initial success to you. Stardust tried to promote many new comers like Vijay Arora and others against stalwarts like Rajesh Khanna and Amitabh Bachchan. What Stardust wanted was not what people wanted. Afterwards it sank to the gutter level demolishing and demonising personalities like Aamir Khan using disgruntled persons like Mahesh Bhatt. And it wrote and is still writing praising inconsequential stars and castigating some others making one wondering about the intents of the journalist concerned. Atleast our national newspapers have not sunk so low and they are fairly ok.

Jogeshwar said...

I have been a sportsperson and I have seen something like this but on a much smaller level. I remember whenever the guys won in some major tournament the press walas would take the news but it was never published, until our Coach realised a bottle o'happiness had to be gifted along, only then the things got moving.
first time in 30 years! that is very offensive indeed, perhaps junior lackey needs some whacking but I'm sure they'll bend and crawl.

வழிப்போக்கன் said...

It is not a big surprise. Here in Chennai, where everything including corruption has been meticulously standardised, the "cover culture" has also been standardised and fine-tuned. DMK, PMK, Congress, DMDK, VKC and even BJP are following it. If "covers" are not on the table, you can expect no coverage or a "mean" coverage.

Unknown said...

Hey Shobha...

Newspapers print anything. Mostly false. Anything printed even in the top newspapers cannot and shouldnt be fully believed. I learnt that a long time back thru a personal experience and i was shocked to say the least.
Regarding your article, well u can always run it here lady, on your own personal blog, where no juniors or seniors can stop you. So go right ahead Lady, we are waiting !!!

Another Kiran In NYC said...

This expose was a long time coming! It certainly was!

Unfortunate that it took a foreign publication to actually put it out there, but then perhaps WSJ was not going to lose readers because of what happened in India. WSJ would still get published and exactly the same number of copies would be sold every morning whether this story about "publication by auction in far away India" was in it or not. A few think tanks in Washington probably tutt tutted and a few CIA memos were probably circulated asking field desks to get more information on the newspapers and prepare yet another analytical report on the "press scene in India" to be filed away until some editorial team in a desi newspaper had to be bribed to publish something during the next "nuclear crisis" in the subcontinent. No real repercussions anywhere. Certainly not in India. The "press business" will continue as usual.

All over the world, all newspapers and media outlets have some bias. How could they not? They have editorials to write every single day. However there are other factors that rightly or wrongly influence an editorial stance.

For many news papers in the west, business (circulation) as the bottom line would be the important factor influencing editorial content. Advertising revenue is not as driven via political agenda of big business as it is through the buying power of individual consumers.

Is it the same in India? I think not. The free press is a myth. Well not completely a myth, else independent thinkers like you would have been silenced a long time ago... but certainly the press is compromised. The crusading journalist in mainstream media is extinct. All for a variety of reasons unique to India.

Perhaps lots of newspapers in India dont merely depend on circulation. Advertising which is the major revenue earner is very much politically influenced through business houses. So if a business house has a mutually parasitic relationship with an influential political party, it is certainly going to want to keep pet media outlets on leash.Ofcourse both partners in the parasitic relationship have enough money to keep a lot of journalists fed and watered.

Another factor (that I am probably going to get crucified for mentioning) could be the ingrained feudal attitude and subconcious desire for feudal subjugation in desi culture. All this on the part of the editorial team, owners, and thier lackeys and... why not also include the readers.

Being subservient to a higher authority is sometimes more comfortable and more familiar in our cultural context. We strive so hard for our daily meal, so why not just place our head at the feet of our "maibaap" at the end of the day. Perhaps they wont kick us away everyday. We are too tired to move anyway. Could the news papers and thier employees just doing what is easier for themselves? Can it just be ingrained in our DNA now? Like you mentioned the line... ask them to stoop and they will crawl.

Something else to think about. You have impeccable decades long journalistic credibility. Could the editors (who are also longstanding coworkers and perhaps friends) getting thier dirty work done by thier junior staff? To indicate to you that they are perhaps not quite as independent as you would like them to be, or that editorial bias has just changed. I am not much for conspiracy theories but that was the first thought that came to mind.

Publish your column here. Those of us who mourn the loss of a responsible press should link it to our blogs and spread it far and wide.

I think I need a snack now. Being incensed and writing in a mad frenzy always makes me hungry!

introspection said...
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Nandini Rao said...
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Nandini Rao said...
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Nandini Rao said...

@ Shobhaa De & Another Kiran....

I couldn't agree more with the two of you.
Reader's Digest is a monthly general-interest family magazine that I have been subscribing for a decade now. I love the human connect that is brought about in many of it's true life stories, some that touch your soul & completely engulf you with the belief that 'YOU CAN SHARE'!

It's extremely rewarding when you share thoughts & beliefs, either out of desperation or with utmost revolt.
We have lost that liberty to share. I'm still very much attracted to independent writer's like Shobhaa De & RD for credible news.
Hopefully, not everything can be so gloomy.

Gajendra said...

the less said the better!!!

Rajesh said...

Disgusting but true fact about Indian Media... I suppose people like Shobhaa who are fearless need to expose the media, if not the Bharkhas, Rajdeeps and Sagarikas will make merry by fooling people....

athi said...


Anonymous said...

greatposting...keep doing more...


Anonymous said...

Press in loosing out on the trust that was instrumental in their exponential growth.
Maybe it’s because so many reporters are in bed with the rich and powerful.
Can you imagine a channel News 24 run by Anurada something!) and consider herself a Journo dishing out programs like Sonianama and advertising it. Also ne of their programs was titled Laloonama and Prakash Karat ka Kaarnaama. Avoid watching news channel in the presence of your children. They too will loose their taste.

read more:

p said...

you write for toi...why do they call some ipl teams by their real name and others as team hyderabad, team chennai, etc?

krish said...


Honesty is a virtue we are not born with anymore.......infact being truthful and honest is looked down upon as being loose in the head.......its a path we all choose and how we feel at the end to face oneself in the mirror .............thats whts going to decide ones attitude to the system and everythng around.




Ajay Goyal said...

Marcia refers to a very obvious dichotomy in my views ( Ajay Goyal , re WSJ article on Pay Per Say, media corruption )
What a difference three weeks make in politics! When I made the speech at Swami Ramdev's Patanjali mission in early April I was not yet a candidate. My view was that of Indian media in 1970s and 80s and also of a media propreitor. I own The Russia Journal from Moscow and Washington. I had always looked up to Indian newspapers in their 1980s avataar.The I spent 20 years outside India and had no idea what had happened to the last bastion of democracy back home. Three weeks later, into my Chandigarh campaign I was shocked and saddened to find how news was being sold. How editors had been corrupted. How newspaper and TV proprietors and cable news managers were doing outright extortion. I had heard about media bias but what I saw took my breath away - it is the worst form of corruption in media anywhere in the world even if compared with countries having worst record on democracy and freedom of speech. Include Russia in that list.
Its been a revelation for me, and what a sad one at that Its never pleasant when icons and idols fall. Indian media has been a giant of righteousness for me. I have been wrong.

Unknown said...

ya that is true...

Work from home India

P.I.L. BUSTER said...


Your blogs make an interesting read and now wonder you have so many followers.

There is another typical case of how media is being prejudiced and managed and not by the accused but by the accusers.

I am referring to infamous Madhu Koda and his Rs.4000 cr. Hawala Scam. You may find out how PIL against Madhu Koda accusing him of Rs. 4000 cr. scam may be a bogus proxy lititgation. However the conspirators have managed the media so well and prejudiced the concerned authorities that the accused has been established guilty as charged in the eyes of almost entire country.

You may find the detailed story at the following blog.

alternative link

I am not comfortable divulging my identity at this stage because of the sensitive nature of the information.

I am posting this message on this particular post of yours because this is a relevant post. However with due permission I would like to post it on a more recent one because I would like more people to see the other side of the story.

And absolutely nothing like you giving your take on what we have to say. Unbiased and exactly how you see it. We are open to any sort of criticism.

P.I.L. Buster