KOLKATA: IT was an advanced ‘April Fool’ for the readers of newspapers in Bengal on 01st March. The two principal newspapers of ABP group Anandabazar Patrika and The Telegraph published 22 advertisements of West Bengal government on that very day! Such unprecedented happening indicates directly to the unholy nexus between government and media owners. Anandabazar Patrika, the Bengali medium paper, published 13 advertisements of West Bengal government along with the photograph of Mamata Banerjee and The Telegraph, the English medium paper, published 9 advertisements of West Bengal government and photograph of Mamata Banerjee appeared with all those. Even advertisements in Bengali were released in the English medium paper.
This entire episode is not a matter of one day but it is the policy of the TMC. The last page of Anandabazar Patrika is featuring a full page classified advertisement of West Bengal government for more than a fortnight. One must not forget the same policy adopted by Mamata Banerjee when she or her party was in charge of the Indian Railway ministry. How Mamata ruined the funds of country’s largest transport network was critically pointed out by the Comptroller and Auditor General (CAG) report tabled in parliament on 13.8.2013. It said that the capital and safety funds of the railways dwindled from Rs 21,681.60 crore in 2007-08 to a mere Rs 1,770.91 crore during her three years operation in the Railway ministry.
West Bengal government has increased budgetary allocation in Information & Cultural Affairs Department 16 times in the last two years. They are otherwise screaming about the so-called tight economic condition of the state but their advertisement expenditure in campaign will push even the corporate organisations to shame.
The Press Council of India and the Election Commission have banned ‘paid news’, but the mechanism of manipulating objective presentation of news can very well be done through release of advertisements. Even Noam Chomsky has shown in his research that how advertisement plays as a ‘filter’ in the process of dissemination of balanced news and how this payment through advertisement operate in ‘manufacturing consent’. The directives of the Press Council of India and the judicial bodies have repeatedly focused on the impartial selection of the news media because the motto of releasing government advertisements is to cater to public interest with public money. There must be a definite policy for selection of news media for release of advertisements so that the news presentation is not be manipulated. But the TMC government in West Bengal is releasing advertisements only to the media who appease TMC in their news presentation.
The TMC government has been issuing series of costly display advertisements on all occasions, and even on no occasion. But the government has broken all their previous record on 01st March, 2014. Besides 22 advertisements in the two newspapers of ABP Group, they released 12 such advertisements in Sambad Pratidin, whose editor is none other than a TMC MP. The release of Bengali content in English daily clearly indicates that the motive of the government is not only to reach the people but also to transfer the public money to the private media owners in the name of advertisements. As all the advertisements were released in the display form, it actually has cost on basis of the space provided. So, the number alone will fail to indicate its actual cost. The big size layout of each advertisement along with the illustrious picture of madam chief minister cost hugely for the state exchequer.
The expenditure of the Information & Cultural Affairs department under Left Front government recorded Rs 7.91 crore in 2011. The TMC government has recorded Rs 100.31 crore during 2012-13 in the said department. During 2013-14, the budgetary provision for the department reads Rs 150 crore.
Public money is being siphoned to the media owners in the name of advertisement; in reality it is an under-table deal between TMC and media owners to manipulate public perception.