Express Exclusive: Chhattisgarh govt pays for all TV news that is fit to buy

FP

Sahara Samay refused to comment.

Political and media observers in the state trace the phenomenon to the assembly elections of 2003 when media houses and politicians, led by the then Congress government, entered into "sponsored news" deals. The relationship was apparently low-key until Raman Singh's government began investing heavily in marketing itself and media companies began diversifying into power, steel and real estate, leading to both sides finding a mutual need.

The state government's financial records show that until 2007, small, local firms were hired to produce documentaries and promotional features and these were given to news channels to broadcast. Subsequently, the government directly asked the channels to produce "news stories". The consenting relationship between the establishment and the media had its teething troubles and ugly spats would sometimes spill out into the open. For instance, the government had last year publicly accused ETV of resorting to paid news and blackmailing.

Over the years, however, the government and the channels seem to have ironed out the glitches in their relationship and even come up with explanations and justifications for crossing the line, the observers said.

'MANUFACTURED NEWS'

Some examples of the Chhattisgarh government's PR

department paying TV channels for favourable coverage, and proposals from channels for paid coverage:

In March 2010, Z24 produced a report titled 'Jenelia Ki Lal Kahani' or 'Jenelia's Red story' after Bastar police arrested a woman named Jenelia on suspicion that she was a Maoist. The report was produced even before the woman's interrogation could be completed and the police could establish she was indeed a Maoist extremist. Z24 submitted a CD containing the report and a copy of the script, along with the CD of another story, to the PR department and demanded Rs 10 lakh plus service tax. Officials paid them Rs 4 lakh saying "the channel did not repeat the programme on prime time. Also, most of it was file footage".

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