You could now pay for anti-Modi rant in Lutyens Media: Or Times of India needs to come clean

30th April 2021

30th April 2021

Devlina Chkaravarty: Ad or news item?

I wonder how Times of India would explain an “anti-Modi ad” published on its April 28th edition, Page 10 (image below). 

Explain they must, not just to its readers like me, but to a statutory body like Press Council of India, and Ministry of Information and Broadcasting, freshly armed with provisions against “fake news” in media outlets of all kinds. 

It’s a two-column long piece, extended till half the length of Page 10, in which one Devlina Chakravarty, MD of Artemis Hospital, Gurgaon writes: “Forget `your’ (emphasis writer’s) political image, `your’ anger, forget sedition and anti-national rants. Shed the baggage…” etc. 

She mentions the crisis of people, health infrastructure etc which is all fine but there is everything which is wrong the way Times of India has made it public for its readers. Let’s check:

Every ad in a newspaper is easily discernible. It has prominent borders and `Ad’ is written somewhere so as to leave no one in doubt that it's not by the editorial desk of the newspaper. That it’s a sponsor’s insert for which he has paid to the newspaper. 

In this piece in Times of India, there is no way a reader could make out if it’s a news story or an advertisement. The only difference which trained eyes, like me, could spot is the font. The `font’ is different which is a giveaway that it’s not a news item.

An ad has been passed off as a news item for readers. An ad of this length, mind you, costs Rs 20-30 lakhs in Times of India. 

Let’s presume that Times of India now claims that it indeed is a news story. That it’s not a paid advertisement. That it changed font just to highlight the seriousness of the crisis in which Delhi NCR is engulfed. 

So, if it’s a news story or opinion piece, who writes “you” or “your” inverted in text? Who carries the image of the “reporter” with the text? 

And if it’s an “opinion” piece, what is doing in a page which has stories like:”After killing his wife, man walks to a police station” etc. 

Times of India would be embarrassed to know that the same writer, same story, para for para, word for word, comma for comma, had appeared in “The Wire” on April 25, three days ago before it adorned its edition. There is also Devlina Chakravorty, beaming at watchers, in a video interview with a journalist of The Wire. 

So it’s certainly not a “news story”. As said, its also not an “opinion” piece since it logically should have ended with: “This opinion piece had first appeared in The Wire” or "taken with arrangement with The Wire" or "Courtesy: The Wire" etc.

Even a digital news start-up doesn’t miss out on this fundamental. And to think Times of India, and other Lutyens Media, have the gumption to present themselves as “fact-checkers” against “fake news” hurting society. 

In terminology, this is “Paid News”. The Press Council of India, in its investigation in 2010, found “paid news” benefits journalists and media organisations. “It’s paid for by politicians, organisations, brands, movies and celebrities…” Wikipedia informs us that this abuse is “pioneered by Bennett, Coleman and Company Ltd group through their Times of India publication.” Many newspapers did this “paid news” story in election times during the UPA government. The Election Commission is reported to have identified more than 1,400 cases of paid news between 2009 and 2013 during which elections were held in 17 states in India.

When the poop hit the roof, guess what happened. The Press Council of India, even though we are told one from Lutyens Media was a pioneer in “paid news”, held a few Hindi, largely regional dailies, guilty. Not even a slap on the wrist to Lutyens Media. Much like in the recent TRP scam in which a major media house was found to have paid Rs 5 lakhs for manipulated ratings but nothing is likely to come out of it. 

True liberty with the guardians of democracy complicit is day-dreaming. The Fourth Estate instead of being a voice to the voiceless, as a defender of democracy, is in bed with moneybags. In common parlance, it’s prostitution: the prize goes to the highest bidder. Only a prostitute’s dog knows all the intimate details and nobody is able to find it. 

The truth is everyone is wary of taking on the Lutyens Media. Be it the precincts of ministry, judiciary or Press Council of India. Lutyens Media is like a feral without a chain or a hand which guides it. 

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