Express Exclusive: Chhattisgarh govt pays for all TV news that is fit to buy
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The Indian Express is in the possession of nearly 200 such documents of Chhattisgarh's PR department and letters from senior editors of TV channels that chronicle a flagrantly unethical relationship between the state and its leading private TV channels. The documents cover a span of about five years starting 2007 and contain proposals from channels to produce "news stories" and "provide positive coverage of government programmes", price negotiations and approvals, among others.
Those involved in such deals include Z24, Sahara Samay, ETV Chhattisgarh and Sadhna News, Chhattisgarh's main TV channels, besides some smaller, local networks. Z24 is a franchisee of Zee News. While its reporters are recruited locally, its editor Abhay Kishore is deputed by Zee News. The cost of such programmes can range from Rs 4 lakh to Rs 1.1 crore.
The documents show that Raman Singh's BJP government, which has ruled the state since 2003, has paid for favourable news stories and live coverage regularly. This includes government welfare programmes, planting of trees in Naya Raipur, distribution of subsidised rice to the poor, the Commonwealth Games Queen's Baton Relay, disputes pending in courts and even to generate public reaction to welfare programmes – "five persons in each district with 30 seconds for every reaction", as one deal said.
No event is apparently sacrosanct for such transactions, be it the Republic Day or Independence Day speeches of government leaders, the state budget presentation or even food distribution in the tribal district of Bastar by visiting BJP Leader of the Opposition in the Lok Sabha, Sushma Swaraj. And most of these programmes do not say they are sponsored or paid for by the government and pass off as regular programming by the independent, private TV channels.
However, N Baijendra Kumar, an IAS officer who is the commissioner of the PR department, said it is an insult to claim that journalists can be bought. "We undertake sponsored programmes to showcase our success stories. We get our stories done, be it spots, features or documentaries as advertisements. There is nothing paid news about it, nothing hidden about it. Everything is in white, duly recorded and accounted," he said.
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