CWG, Kalmadi, Indian Media and Paid News

Few days ago, I saw a status message on the Facebook page of a very senior and respected investigative journalist. The message was: “How many journalists are willing to admit that their bosses in channels, newspapers and magazines actually blatantly refused to carry anti-CWG stories before July 2010 because of advertising carrot that CWG was offering to media organisations? Isn’t it true that media was also warming up to be part of this racket till CWG went bust and the media organisations realised that there is no money to be earned from it?”

It was a very valid argument as the negative news reports with regard to Commonwealth Games 2010 and its Organising Committee Chairman Suresh Kalmadi suddenly increased after July. A series of investigative news reports by various newspapers/TV channels have given sufficient hint of a large-scale corruption in the organisation of the games. But the main point here is why was media silent for so long.

Canary Trap brings you exclusive details of deals that were proposed and made with regard to “positive media coverage” for CWG 2010. We have constantly highlighted the malaise of paid news phenomenon through our posts but this goes beyond the “paid news” phenomenon.

According to sources in the CWG OC, sometime in October last year, Suresh Kalmadi met with officials of top media companies and urged them to support the games. He focused on the English media as he was advised that it was a preferred choice of the opinion makers.

During this time, a leading English newspaper (with largest circulation in India) sent a proposal to Kalmadi for positive coverage of the Commonwealth Games in November 2009. The entire deal was worth Rs 12.19 crore. The media group wanted an “Official Newspaper” status for its flagship newspaper.

As a part of its exhaustive coverage, the newspaper promised special features, CWG quiz, seminars, marathon in major cities and towns, Q&As, and even a coffee table book.

The proposal stated: “We do not solicit any financial assistance from CWG for the above activities apart from the regular advertising support for encouragement.”

The newspaper proposal lists down the content plan for CWG 2010, while also clearly mentioning that some of its editorials will solely focus on the Games in a credible non-advertising format. The proposal mentions editorial content plan for milestone days (Republic Day – Jan 26, Commonwealth Day – March 8, QBR reaching India – June 25, 50 days to go – August 14, and September 15).

The proposal lists its benefits wherein it mentions that the proposed coverage plan has the “potential to form opinions of the public at large”. And then comes the clincher. It says: “It is also expected that with the influence that the ‘Response’ department has over editorial, the OC can get neutral and positive coverage from now to the Games.”

The media group also hinted that if the proposal is accepted it would consider beneficial and extended deals with its other properties (Internet, TV, Radio).

Click here to read the proposal

Kalmadi also received a similar proposal from another leading English daily, which claims to have highest circulation in Delhi. Eventually, the deal was finalised with the latter for a sum of around Rs 9 crore, sources say.

The only question that arises here is: Had Kalmadi agreed to a deal with the former, would they have still gone ahead with kind of negative coverage of the Games that they are doing now?

Same is the case with the electronic media. Two top English news channels were competing to get the “Official Broadcast Partner” status from the CWG. The first channel in question is a pioneer in English news in India and the second one is run by a distinguished editor who also worked for the first one. Anyways, the deal in this case went in favour of the second channel and the former suddenly woke up to the CWG mess and started doing investigative stories on alleged corruption in the organising of the Games.

As mentioned above, Canary Trap has highlighted the Press Council of India’s allegedly diluted report on paid news, which states that self-regulation is the best option to check this problem. But after going through the above details and documents, one can easily imagine what kind of self-regulation the media companies can/will undertake.

Vinod Mehta, the Editor-in-Chief of the Outlook group, had recently written in one of his articles that Indian media doesn’t do introspection. He goes on to say that while the media advises our MPs, political parties, militants, judges, scientists and many others to look deep inside their trade and clean up the rot, it has studiously ignored or airbrushed the rot creeping into the fourth estate.

(This post in no way suggests that allegations against the CWG OC should be over-looked. It only highlights the problem of paid news in the Indian media.)

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