Monday, April 6, 2009

Package deals — with credibility discounts -P. Sainath

Date:07/04/2009 URL:


Package deals — with credibility discounts

P. Sainath
Candidates complain of media extortion, with publications offering ’coverage packages’

It’s a development that sets apart the 2009 polls from earlier ones in Vidarbha (and some other regions, too). And it’s not a happy one. Candidates complain of “media extortion.” Some (not all) publications and a channel or two appear to be making poll contenders offers they can’t refuse.

The offer: “coverage packages.” The low-end package seems worth around Rs. 15–20 lakh, the high-end ones a lot more. Buy into one and you get a set number of column centimetres, photos and reports, or footage of your campaign and rallies.

“They know we have an election budget and they pressurise us,” says one candidate, who has been an MP more than once. He says he has never seen it this blatant.

To some in the industry, it seems simple enough, even harmless: an advertising package. What’s wrong with that — it’s been there in the past, too, they argue. The problem, says another candidate, is that in practice, “refusal to bite means you can get blacked out of their coverage. That is, unless they do negative stories about you.”

Since no one has actually filed a complaint, there has been no official comment or response. The word “package,” though, has gained notoriety here and is now used in a mostly sarcastic or pejorative sense.

It has also put some journalists in a spot as managements get them to make the pitch for the package. They have access to the political world, after all. It also completely marginalises smaller candidates who simply do not have the resources.

The problem is that no one knows quite what to do about it. Both the everyday and the dodgy can exist side by side when it comes to advertising, says another candidate.

A political veteran of this region, he says he has been avoiding such calls. Another politician says the “package problems” are more ethical than legal. At the same time those boundaries are blurred when such “ads” are packaged as editorial matter. A couple of aspirants say they have decided not to part with any money for such deals. What happens “if I win?” mocks one. “Will I have to buy a package for my victory to be reported?”

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