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Dainik Jagran: Allegations and Counter-Allegations

Senior leader of the Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) Shri Lalji Tandon who contested and won the 2009 Lok Sabha elections from the Lucknow constituency in Uttar Pradesh has publicly gone on record as to how the “the largest circulated (Indian) language newspaper in the world”, refused to publish any news about him in the run-up to the 2009 elections because of his refusal to pay any money. “When I enquired, I was told that I should pay up if I wanted news in my favour,” Shri Tandon said, adding that his rival from the BSP got more publicity than any other candidate in his constituency. Though Shri Tandon said the issue was later sorted out with the newspaper, his allegations levelled in public highlighted how rampant the malpractice of “paid news” was in the particular newspaper which is not just the largest circulated language newspaper of India but also one of the most widely circulated newspapers of the world.

The largest circulated paper that Shri Tandon referred to was the Dainik Jagran, which he also named in public. On January 11, 2010, the Press Council of India asked a representative of the newspaper whether what Shri Tandon had claimed was true and whether the newspaper had in fact demanded any money from him to carry favourable news on his election campaign. This is what he said: “When a politician of the stature of Shri Lalji Tandon speaks, it is natural for the media to take note. We can only assert that we did not offer our editorial space for money.” When asked further as to whether Shri Tandon was lying when he said the newspaper’s representative had asked him for money to publish news about his campaign, the Dainik Jagran representative repeated that no one from his newspaper had asked Shri Tandon for money.

When Km Anuradha Raman of Outlook magazine asked Shri Tandon if he had patched up with the owners of the newspaper, his reply made it evident that this was indeed what had happened. Shri Tandon asked a counter-question: “Kyon wahi baat doharana chahte hain? Rehne dijeeye. (Why do you want me to repeat it again? Let it be.)”

In a formal letter handed over to the Press Council of India on January 10, 2010, Shri Nishikant Thakur, Chief General Manager, Jagran Prakashan Ltd., claimed that the controversy relating to “paid news” was “nothing but rumours spread by lost candidates in frustration”. Describing the allegations as “frivolous” and “factually” incorrect, Shri Thakur claimed that he “could say with certainty that no editor of a reputed newspaper in the country is distorting news for money”. He added that amount spent on “publicity material” in newspapers is “marginal” in comparison to the total expenses incurred by candidates standing for elections.

Shri Thakur claimed that the ceilings of expenditure laid down by the Election Commission of India were “unrealistic” and “out of tune with reality”. Further, he claimed that attempts by candidates to influence individual reports “in the rush” of election coverage could go “undetected by the editorial board” of the concerned newspaper. He suggests that there should be “state funding” of elections, that the Election Commission of India should “implement appropriate measures” to verify expenses incurred by candidates and also that there should be “inner party democracy” in political parties.

Shri Thakur argues that the right of the citizen to get “un-polluted information” needs to be balanced by “the rights of the media to conduct its business in an economically viable manner which is also guaranteed by the Constitution of India subject to permissible legal restrictions”. He adds that the press has the right to “project (the) good achievements of (a) particular candidate” and concludes with the assertion that what is required are electoral reforms, systemic correction and not merely “limb operation”.

Date posted: August 8, 2010Last modified: May 23, 2018Total views: 21