Full Report of Press Council of India on Bihar Media

The Media is under unannounced pressure in Bihar. This is a dangerous scenario in parliamentary democracy that may endanger the very basis of democracy. Hundreds of complaints received by the probe committee give ample proof of direct government pressure on newspapers. This is the conclusion of a Fact Finding Team (FFT) of Press Council of India (PCI).

While talking to the members of the team during their informal “off the record” talks, some journalists complained of managerial prevalence in day to day editorial matters. But they all pleaded that they have no option, but to abide by such an unethical managerial practice. Incidentally prior to the visit of FFT, Bihar team to Bihar districts and after announcement of constitution of the three member Press Council Of India Fact Finding Team to study Pressure on Media in Bihar by Hon’ble PCI Chairman, Justice Markandey Katju a few meetings were held in the name of “defence of freedom of press and media” in which few senior media men too had also joined. Members of the FFT, Bihar team also started receiving lots of phones from several journalists showing their keen interest in this regard, but pleaded anonymity. The committee also noted this as a symptom of prevailing unannounced pressure on media.

The Chairman of the PCI, Justice (retd), Markandey Katju constituted a three member FFT headed by Rajeev Ranjan Nag and comprising Arun Kumar and Kalyan Barooah,both member PCI on February 24, 2102 to look into the complaints and submit its findings.
he Fact Finding Team (FFT) was constituted by the Press Council of India (PCI) after it received several complaints regarding pressure on media in Bihar by the State Government. There were reports of unrest prevailing among media fraternity in the State, of journalists being harassed and humiliated.

The Committee has during the course of its enquiry made four visits to different parts of Bihar and met various stakeholders including the representatives of the media, civil society, political parties, NGOs, general public. During its visit to the State, the team received overwhelming response and received hubdreds of written ubmissions from journalists and their union. Because of the nature of the complaints received by the PCI, the FFT made special efforts to meet the representatives of small and medium category of newspapers, besides Editors of major news publications. The FFT visited offices of several newspapers and scanned copies of the publications in references to the complaints. The FFT also met the Officials of the Bihar Government to get its views on the complaints received by the PCI.

During the course of its interactions, the FFT received hundreds of representations/complaints with evidences in few cases. The PCI had put out advertisements in local dailies including Bihar editions of major publications. In response to the advertisements, the FFT received hundreds of submissions by mail.

During the course of enquiry the FFT visited Patna on April 1-2, 2012 Muzaffarpur on July 12, Munger on July 13 and Gaya on September 17, 2012. The FFT had met and received representatives of various organizations from neighbouring districts including Nawada, Jahanabad, Bhagalpur, Munger, Beghusarai, Arah and Lakhisar

Full Report of Fact Finding Team

FFT BIHAR REPORT

BACKGROUND

History of journalism in Bihar can be written in golden letters, as the language media in the state played a stellar role. Known more for their courageous writings, journalists of the state played a leading role during the freedom struggle of India. It would not be out of place to mention the contribution of Bihar after independence in terms of its courageous and responsible journalism.

Bihar has been serving as leading light for years for the whole country. Despite the lowest per capita income and illiteracy in citizens, Bihar has been recording largest sale of Hindi newspapers and magazines for the last sixty years. Media organisations get most important feedbacks from Bihar. The reason behind this is the high journalistic quality and its readers having elegant taste and temperament about the value system traditionally prevalent in journalism of the state. Journalists working in the State contributed a lot to reach up to this standard.

The people of the state are also known for their penchant for knowledge. The tradition is still in existence and can be seen everywhere in the State. This tradition gave rise to many social

and political movements like freedom movement prior to our independence and several others after that. A host of committed journalists came out from socialist, communist, naxal of JP movements and played important roles as journalists not only in the state but also in several parts of the country. They served as foundation for exemplary journalism in the country. They never indulged in give-and-take type of journalism rather courageously reported the issues that were vital for the society and the country. There is no incident that can be counted as an example of ‘the journalist being purchased by an award of any other material offers like land or housing’. On the other hand, when in the 1980s, the Jagannath Mishra government tried to gag the press, or during the emergency imposed during Prime Minister Mrs. Indira Gandhi, the journalists in Bihar fought tooth and nail to preserve the freedom of the press. It goes without saying that journalists from Bihar are serving as pillars of several media institutions of the country, because of their clear understanding, the manner of writing, integrity, commitment, loyalty and perseverance.

PREVAILING SCENARIO

However, a dangerous trend being witnessed in Bihar is that the right to write the truth has been lost in the State. This is not only a violation of the rights that are guaranteed under the Constitution of India, but also poses a threat to free and fare journalism, resulting in an unsavoury situation in the state. Due to government pressure over the media, the news relating to even small agitations are being blacked out in the state like Bihar, which otherwise is known for raising matters of public concern. News relating to agitations, public concern do not find place in the newspapers, for they dare to raise uncomfortable questions for the government because they point fingers on the weaknesses and faults of the governance.

FINDINGS

Such an indirect control over the media has direct perceivable impact on the people’s right to know, the guarantee given to the civil society under the Constitution of India. It has in a way threatens the very democracy in violation of the article 19(1) A of the Constitution. Such an indirect act of the government poses the danger of triggering a constitutional crisis in the state. It needs a serious look into the matter. Free and fare journalism in Bihar is facing a situation of censorship the likes of which was seen during the emergency in our country. The journalism of Bihar that has long been known in the country for its courageous writings and of journalists putting even their lives at stake, are now gagged, muted and handicapped. Journalists, by and large are feeling suffocated with many of them pleading their helplessness. A large number of the journalists who appeared before the fact finding team complained of prevalence of the practice of scores of news-items being sent to the editorial sections of respective newspapers by their management bearing the signatures of branch head, general manager, chief manager, circulation manager as well as advertisement manager’s every day for its publication. Such news items are considered to be a “must” for its publication irrespective of the fact that whether such news-items are really newsworthy or not, from the editorial point of view. Surprisingly the list also included newspapers which are published from outside the state, where the desks have a constant demand from its Bihar based reporters to file state government friendly reports. Ostensibly with an eye to curry state government favour in form of state government ads.

While talking to the members of the team during their informal “off the record” talks, some journalists complained of managerial prevalence in day to day editorial matters. But they all pleaded that they have no option, but to abide by such an unethical managerial practice. Incidentally prior to the visit of FFT, Bihar team to Bihar districts and after announcement of constitution of the three member Press Council Of India Fact Finding Team to study Pressure on Media in Bihar by Hon’ble PCI Chairman, Justice Markandey Katju a few meetings were held in the name of “defence of freedom of press and media” in which few senior media men too had also joined. Members of the FFT, Bihar team also started receiving lots of phones from several journalists showing their keen interest in this regard, but pleaded anonymity. The committee also noted this as a symptom of prevailing unannounced pressure on media.

The reporters and outstation correspondents too are required to arrange/manage advertisements from the IPRD as well as the private parties. The supposedly senior journalists are assigned these jobs more.

In this regard many a journalists referred to the transfer of a senior ranking journalist of an esteemed National Hindi daily published from Bihar for his falling out of the grace of powers that be for publishing a news-item related to some alleged scam in a state government department quoting the then departmental minister.

GOVERNMENT VS OPPOSITION: ALLEGATIONS OF UNDERPLAYING

The managements of the newspapers which enjoy the benefits of the government advertisements feel grateful to benefactor establishment and resort to praising their policies. Management of the newspapers being published from the state have allegedly surrendered before the government for the fear of losing advertisements. Damocles sword in the form of possible stopping of the government advertisement is always hanging over their head. It has been observed that many of such management of newspapers are even avoiding publication of news related to public interests and social concerns that may be of public interest.

The role of opposition is considered one of the important factors in parliamentary democracy. The ruling establishment is supposed to protect the opposition’s right to oppose. This committee has also received complaints narrating as to how the issues of public import raised by them are ignored by the media. The issues raised by the opposition in the legislative assembly or the council do not find proper space in the newspapers, since the management of the newspapers are under fear of losing government support. The activities of the opposition outside the houses are also not properly reported on account of the same fear.

This is a dangerous scenario in parliamentary democracy that may endanger the very basis of democracy. Hundreds of complaints received by the probe committee give ample proof of direct government pressure on newspapers. The committee went through various editions of the newspapers like Hindi daily Jagaran, Hindustan and Prabhat Khabar and found them faltering on many accounts. Hundreds of the activities of the Chief Minister were prominently published, especially by Hindustan, which were neither newsworthy nor relevant, if judged by the standard of journalism. It has been alleged that two or three photographs of the Chief Minister were unnecessarily published on daily basis and his routine statements are published in four columns. The news relating to crime, corruption, social concerns, opposition and civil organizations did not find place even though they deserved to be published on account of their importance as per the standard of journalism.

The morale of the social movements in the state was perceived to have been shattered due to this partisan attitude of the newspapers. Several opposition parties narrated, both in writing and orally, about non-publication of news due to government’s control over the media. Newspapers, in general, are avoiding publishing news related to the opposition, and when they are compelled to publish them on account of their readership needs, they publish such news on inside pages and that too in brief, it was further charged. According to opposition political parties, underplaying the news of the opposition or related to public concern has somehow become a norm. Even the news related to development, crime, corruption, embezzlement, murder, rape, kidnapping and abduction, ransom, robbery etc, which were part of the government documents, were avoided.

For instance, the news relating to seizure of Rs 4.5 crore from the house of a former Janata Dal (U) councillor Vinay Kumar Sinha, was avoided allegedly due to the popular perception that he is a confidant of the Chief Minister. A Handful of newspapers published this new, but they too consciously avoided reporting an important fact that he was the treasurer of the ruling party. When the opposition political parties demanded a probe in this matter, the newspapers published their demand in ‘underplaying’ mode and briefly disposed of the matter.

In this regard, under-display of a news-item pertaining to police high-handedness in Bhajanpura village in Forbesganj in Araria district, in which a police Jawan was seen to be rampling a common man there under his boot, is an example of prevalence of such an undeclared self-censorship in print media in Bihar, though this incident was telecasted across the country. The issue of under display of this news was brought into the notice of the fact finding team firstly by Bihar Media Watch which had sent a letter to the Chairman of the Press Council of India immediately after the incident. A cross-section of the readers and social activists in course of fact finding team’s visit to Bihar further confirmed it.

Bihar Media Watch was the first to complain the Press Council of India that Forbesganj firing incident was not carried by papers like Hindustan, Dainik Jagran and Prabhat Khabar. Even the visit of the National Commission for Minorities chairman Justice Wajahat Habibullah to Bhajanpura firing site was not covered. However, Hindustan Hindi daily through one of its column ran a campaign against it colouring the visit of Minorities Commission chairman to Forbesganj village on communal lines.

In its complaint, referring the Forbisganj firing of June 3, 2011 as an example, Bihar Media Watch said that the three newspapers being published from Patna – Hindustan, Dainik Jagaran and Prabhat Khabar – avoided even publishing simple information about the incident. Media Watch said that Hindustan refused to even acknowledge the visit of the Chairman of the Minority Commission, Wajahat Habibullah, to Forbisganj on June 21, 2011, as news. On the other hand, the newspaper published a column ‘Do Tuk’ on the front page on June 24, 2011 in which it performed the role of supporting the ruling establishment. It may be mentioned here that four persons belonging to Muslim community were shot dead by Bihar Police personnel on June 1, 2011 after a roadblock. The injured were trample upon by boot wearing police. Video clippings of the incidents were published on social media sites. Some national channels also dared to show these footage. However, the local newspapers published this incident of police atrocity in deep inside the pages (like pages 12-13) is such a manner as if it was not an incident worth attention. No follow up news was published. In this ‘well governed’ stat, the news regarding this incident was tried to be suppressed on behest of the government. According to Media Watch, Hindustan was not in a position to take any risk because maximum number of advertisements is being given to this newspaper. Though the newspaper editors took an alibi that it was not deliberate, as they had covered the incident but did not found it to be fit to highlight it in a big way. On the contrary, social activists complained that such an incident of blatant violation of human rights and human dignity demanded a proper display of such news.

During the hearing those who appeared before the fact finding team, had a common complaint that newspapers in Bihar totally ignore people’s issues like hunger, starvation deaths, peoples’ movements, non-implementation or tardy implementation of poverty alleviation schemes, corruption eating out into poverty alleviation schemes, police atrocities, police high-handedness, under-development and state government apathy to people’s plight as well as other such issues which deserve proper coverage in newspapers in public interest. RJD leaders expressed their concern over the fact that their agitations and statements go quite unreported or are under-reported. They all had a common refrain that state government press releases, statement of ministers, bureaucrats are given undue display whereas the statements and news of opposition is largely ignored. The fact finding team also found that a large number of common people who are generally newspaper readers, share the same feelings as was expressed by the trade union activists, social activists and the opposition leaders. However, if uncomfortable news-items are published, then it is only in such cases where administrative actions in terms of FIR filed occur. Besides, in critical political reports, the ruling parties, by and large is left untouched. One of the senior Urdu Journalists of Bihar Rehan Ghani, who appeared before the Fact Finding Team said that he was made the victim of such an undeclared pressure of the state government on the media exerted through the owners and the managers of the media houses. He narrated that in his capacity as Chief Editor of Urdu Daily Pindaar he was running a regular column “Do Tuk” since 2004 but in May 2007 as, according to him, one of his Do Tuk pieces hurt the state chief minister, Nitish Kumar. In response to this “journalistic misdemeanour” he was called by the Proprietor of his paper to say that the state government was quite unhappy with his column and the State Minority Commission Chairman, Naushad Ahmad has communicated this displeasure of the state government over phone asking him to “set” i.e. to get rid of the person who had written this piece. As a result of it, the paper’s proprietor first dropped his column then demoted him to the post of Managing Editor and ultimately his name was removed from the Print line.

The leader of the opposition in the Legislative Assembly of the state, Abdul Bari Siddiqui said in his complaint submitted to the committee that no news is published in the newspapers of the state that contradict the claim of the good governance being made by the ruling establishment. He alleged that the government is paying the cost of keeping the newspapers mum by implementing a centralised advertisement policy in the state under which advertisements are being given arbitrarily to the favoured newspapers. He alleges that the Advertisement Policy 2008 was prepared by bureaucrats and never tabled in the Legislative Assembly of the state for consideration and passage. Having obliged by the government advertisements, the newspapers either avoid publication of news related to crime, ransom, land grabbing by the leaders of the ruling establishment or their supporters, murders, and the activities of the land mafia, or they are underplayed and published in brief as small news items. He further alleged that the charge sheet against the Nitish Government released by his party RJD in 2009 was also not given due weightage by the newspapers, though it contained several revelation of misdeeds of the government. The Charge sheet raised many issues relating to crime, law and order situation and scams, but they hardly got published, and the prominent newspapers did not give weightage to the allegations of the opposition. However, some television channels carried the news prominently. It was mentioned in the complaint as to when it comes to report the news relating to the government, reporters try to explain them in favour of the government, but when it comes to report opposition’s claims, reporters try to explain them in negative terms.

THREATS TO MEDIA

The FFT was informed that Shiv Kapur Sinha, a senior officer in the Directorate of information and publicity, had even sent letters of instructions to local newspapers saying that the ministers concerned were unhappy over the news being not fully published in positive manner, and therefore they ascertain that news relating to government should properly get published. After a controversy over the issue, Rajesh Bhushan, Chief Secretary of the state, made a statement that the letters contain Shiv Kapur Sinha’s personal views. Mr Haque says this is only an example of government hegemony over the newspapers. The circular issued by the then IPRD deputy director, Shivkapoor Sinha stated that the minister was angry with the recent trend of the newspapers as it has been found that the government’s press-releases were not being “properly covered”. However, the then IPRD principal secretary, Rajesh Bhushan immediately contradicted the said IPRD letter and also announced action against Shivkapoor Sinha (now retired) for issuing such a letter. The circular signed by the then IPRD director, Shivkapoor Sinha is being annexed with this report. The said letter reached to the Fact Finding Team and was also carried in a section of paper and it generated much heat in the backdrop of the team’s visit to Bihar. The Fact Finding Team is of the opinion such a circular could not be considered to be an isolated action of a director rank IPRD official. The concerned circular is attached herewith.

Akhilesh, the Editor of Dainik Tarun Mitra, said in his complaint submitted to the committee that he was being victimised only due to publication of irregularity in Sarva Shiksha Abhiyan, advertisement scam, printing scam and kerosine oil scam in his newspaper. False cases were framed against him, handcuffed and sent to jail. One by one, five cases were registered against him. A web portal Bihar Times made a written complaint before this fact finding committee, in which it said that they were not being given advertisements by the State Government because they dared to resort to free and fare journalism. IIM Ahmedabad had prepared a case study on their portal. Despite their integrity and reliability, the government did not release any advertisement to their portal. However, the other portals were being regularly supplied with government’s advertisement.

THE SUBMISSIONS

Rashtriya Janata Dal (RJD): The president of RJD, the main opposition party in the state, Ramchandra Purve, appeared before the committee along with Ram Kripal Yadav (MP), former legislative council member Ajad Gandhi, former MP Alok Kumar and others, and made written complaint against the ruling establishment alleging that they put pressures on media for compelling them not to publish news that may expose failure of the government. They alleged that managements of newspapers even avoid publishing news and articles that may dent the image of the government or improve the opposition’s image. Only two years before in 2011, Patna High Court had made adverse comments on officials of the Department of Building Constructions. A reporter dared to publish this as news in his newspaper, and the government got this reporter transferred as punishment to Delhi. It resulted into a situation in which other reporters of various newspapers too started avoiding reporting news against the government generated from various courts in the state. Government is indirectly regulating publication of court news against them. RJD leaders alleged that the news of seizure of unaccounted amount of money to the tune of Rs 4.5 crore, dumped in a flour sack in the house of Arun Kumar Sinha, the treasurer of the ruling party, was avoided to be prominently 9 published in newspapers only because the accused was a close confidant of the Chief Minister Nitish Kumar, who had been conducting all his political activities prior to becoming chief minister of the state. The news related to the well known AC-DC scam, BIARDA scam, land scam, flood relief scam, diesel subsidy scam, seeds scam, liquor scam, transport scam, medicine and medical instruments scam, constables’ appointment scam, bicycle and dress scam, and teachers’ appointment scam, etc are either not published or published in brief on inside pages. They were underplayed or suppressed. RJD alleged that newspapers of the state are condemned to write headings of the news related to the opposition in a manner that helps the ruling establishment. The newspapers have lost their privilege to write even headings. Newspapers, under compulsion coupled with their own greed, most of the time tries to ignore news related to the opposition, they alleged.

Annexure

Indian National Congress, Bihar unit: The Bihar unit of Indian National Congress was represented by H K Varma, the convenor of the Media Cell. His allegations were also like that of the other Opposition parties. The party alleged that the newspapers of the state are not giving proper space to the news related to them. He claimed that his party exposed the weaknesses of the state government. Newspapers consider these expose as anti-government movement and either avoided the news to be published or were not given proper space. The party alleged that the news related to the incidents like crime, corruption, failure of the government hardly get published, as per their importance. Under the pressure of the government they are underplayed and published in inside of even on the last page of the newspapers. On the other hand, the newspapers give prominence to the ruling establishment, the he alleged.

Annexure

Nagrik Adhikar Manch: The president of the Nagrik Adhikar Manch, Shiv Prakash Ray appeared on behalf of Nagrik Adhikar Manch, and alleged that Mahuwa TV channel had telecast some news stories that were gathered by using Right to Information Act 2005. The information were taken from not lesser authority than the Chief Minister’s Public Grievance cell. However, after the telecast, the ruling establishment put pressure on the channel management and got all the reporting team out of job, which included senior journalist Praveen Bagi and Kulbhushan. This is another example of increasing government’s control over the media.

Annexure

Lok Janshakti Party: The representatives of the Lok Janshakti Party alleged in their complaint that government control over the media in the state could be ascertained through arbitrary implementation of the centralized advertisement policy. Earlier, it was decentralized and media organizations were being given advertisements at the district level. It was due to the decentralized policy, there was not direct state interference in newspaper contents. However, the news policy has established direct control of the ruling establishment overs the newspaper contents that uses carrot and stick policy to control the contents. That is why news related to public concern or the opposition are not getting their due place in the newspapers. It has adversely affected social movements and opposition’s activities in the state. The issues raised by the opposition are not being published due to government’s pressure. The party alleged that the ruling establishment has taken the media under its full control in the last six years. Journalists are helpless. Newspapers avoid publication of even those news against the government, which are substantiated by valid documents. The party expressed its fear that the dangerous trend may weaken the very democracy in our country. The party prayed for PCI’s intervention in this matter.

Annexure

Bihar Rajya Vishvavidyalay Evam Mahavidyalay Karmchari Mahasangh (Federation of Bihar state university and college staff associations): The Federation of the associations of employees in the Universities and Colleges in the state has also complained that the news related to the employees of the universities and colleges are not being published because they tried to attract the attention of the government towards their problems. This federation is affiliated with All India Federation of Colleges’ and Universities’ Employees. The federation is raising issues related to 250 affiliated colleges.

Association of Small and Medium Newspapers and Magazines of Bihar: The office bearers of the association alleged in their written complaint that government had established their control over the media through giving advertisements worth crores of rupees to the big newspapers. However, the government felt difficulties in controlling the small and medium newspapers. Keeping this in view, the government drafted such an advertisement policy in 2008 which prevented small newspapers from getting government’s advertisement. The association alleged that such a policy was drafted to gag the daring small and medium newspapers to such an extent that they die their natural death. As a result, many newspapers and magazines were either closed due to financial constraints or surrendered before the government’s ‘will’. The association prayed for PCI’s intervention in the matter and alleged that the advertisement policy was discriminatory.

Annexer (Advertisement Policy of the Government of Bihar -2008)

UNFAIR PRACTICE?

The committee also went through various editions of newspapers being published in the state. It was clearly observed that newspapers tried to consciously ignore the issues raised by the opposition. In a parliamentary democracy, the role of the opposition is considered important, however, newspapers did not give their due importance. When the committee tried to know the reason behind such an attitude, several editors forwarded the logic that they gave importance as per their strength in the House. Newspapers have, all the more, increased responsibilities when the opposition is weak, the opinion that has no meaning for such editors. The Right to Information Act, 2005 is one of the most popular acts passed in the parliament. This act is also considered important for journalists. However, in Bihar, this Act seems to be ineffective. Information officers allegedly do not give information to journalists and various sections of the society giving reasons that the information could be used as news. The 11 committee received many complaints in which it was alleged that vital information is not furnished because of the fear of their journalistic usage. When a journalist dared to report on the basis of the information received from the Commission. He was then victimized.

The big multi-edition newspapers like Hindustan, Dainik Jagaran and Prabhat Khabarbeing published from several districts of the state have resorted to even false RNI registration numbers and getting crore of rupees from the government as advertising revenue. The Registrar of Newspapers in India has already issued circulars and declared publication of newspapers without a valid RNI number as illegal. Permission of the RNI for publication of newspapers and magazines is mandatory. When the Committee pointed out the various provisions of the Press and Book Registration act-1867, the managements of the newspapers were found to be speechless on account of their failure to have any satisfactory answer.

However, they started publishing ‘applied for’ after RNI No. In such a situation, newspapers violating the rule should not be given government advertisement on regular basis, but they are getting advertisements in lieu of their praising the government. Under the Press and Book Registration act-1867, the following rules are applicable for publishing a newspaper – Filing a declaration before the concerned district magistrate in the prescribed format, even before starting publication, Issuance of certificate by the concerned district magistrate accordingly Getting permission from Registrar of Companies Getting the newspaper registered in RNI Many newspapers are violating not only the rules but also making money through unfair means. The issue is also under consideration in the Patna High Court. It is expected that many revelation may come into light in the year 2013. While hearing the criminal writ petition No -2951/2012 and 16763/2012, Justice Anjana Prakash on December 17, 2012, refused to interfere in the investigation being carried on in the case (445/2011) registered in Kotwali police station in Munger, and passed an order to complete investigation against Dainik Hindustan within three months. The court has taken cognizance of the allegation that newspapers are getting government advertisement in violation of certain rules. In the case under investigation, it was alleged that Dainik Hindustan got government advertisements worth Rs 200 crore which was in violation of the rules. Dainik Hindustan started publication of its Bhagalpur edition on August 3, 2001 and after some time they started publishing Munger edition, without following rules, the proof of which can also be seen in the Audit report no 195/2005-06 of the Department of Finance, Government of Bihar.

It was observed that Dainik Hindustan, printed and published from Bhagalpur and Munger, published RNI No 44348/86, between 2001 and June 30, 2011, the number which was originally allotted to Patna edition. From July 1, 2011 to April 16, 2012, it was replaced by ‘applied for’. Again on April 17, 2012, the newspaper published RNI no – BIHHIN/2011/41407. Moreover, the court prima facie found the allegations to be true made in the case no -445/2011 registered in Kotwali police station in Munger, in which named accused are 1. Shobhna Bharatiya, Chairperson, the Hindustan Media Ventures Ltd, New Delhi, 2. Shashi Shekhar, Editor-in-Chief, Dainik Hindustan, New Delhi, 3. A K Srivastav, Executive Editor, Hindustan, Patna edition, 4. Binod Bandhu, Resident Editor, Hindustan, Bhagalpur edition, and 5. Amit Chopra, Printer and Publisher, M/S Hindustan Media Ventures Ltd, New Delhi.

The case was registered under section 420/471/476 of the IPC and 8 b, 14, and 15 of the Press and Book Registration act-1867. Justice Anjana Prakash has quoted line by line from the report of Kuldeep Narayan, the District Magistrate of Munger, in the para 12 of the order, that has exposed illegal publication of newspapers from 37 districts of the state, apart from Patna. The district magistrate of Munger has written in his report submitted to the Patna High Court, “I got the Bhagalpur, Munger and Lakhisarai editions of Dainik Hindustan today an found that the news published in those editions were different, the government advertisements were different, but they carried same name as their editor, printer and publisher, the same telephone and RNI numbers. He has written further, “Since news items were different in the three editions, they should be considered as different newspapers and all the three editions should take their own RNI numbers.”

Dainik Hindustan has recently got permission from RNI to print and publish the newspaper from Bhagalpur press. However, the proprietor and editor of the newspaper are openly printing, publishing, and circulating it as Munger, Lakhisarai, Jamui, Shekhpura, Khagaria, Begusarai and several other district editions. The present RNI no being published in the Bhagalpur edition of Dainik Hindustan is BIHHIN /2011/41407. RNI, New Delhi has allowed Prabhat Khabar to publish newspaper from Bhagalpur press and has allotted RNI No -2011/37188. However, this newspaper too is illegally using this number and printing, publishing and circulating its Munger, Lakhisarai, Jamui, Shekhpura, Khagaria, Begusarai and other district editions, which is an offence.

Registrar of newspapers, New Delhi, has given permission to Dainik Jagaran to publish the newspaper from Patna. However, Dainik Jagaran had been printing, publishing and circulating its Bhagalpur, Munger, Lakhisarai, Jamui, Shekhpura, Khagaria, Begusarai and other district editions by using the same registration number for years and earning through government advertisements. Presently, this newspaper is printing RNI no as ‘applied for’. Despite this fact, the Union Government and the Bihar Government are regularly giving advertisement to the newspaper for publication. It is an example of the lively culture of loot of the exchequer.

Annexure

Several English and Urdu dailies has got permission to print their newspapers from Kolkata to be published from Patna. However, the same newspapers are getting their newspapers printed at Patna and circulating the same in all over the state. Urdu and English language newspapers are also illegally getting government advertisements. All these are done with the sole purpose of getting advertisements from the Union and the State governments.

ADVERTISEMENT POLICY

It is a stark fact that the entire Media industry in Bihar depends mainly on the state government advertisements for the major share of its ad-revenue. Being an industrially backward state, it surely lacks private commercial ads here. The share of business ads are considered to be quite necessary for the survival of the purely business-centric media houses. This fact is recognized both by the media houses as well as the state government. In such an ad-market condition the state government enjoys a monopolistic status. Taking advantage of its monopolistic status in handing out advertisements, the government is ostensibly found to be using this status as a lever to arm-twist the media houses with an eye to compel newspaper house managements to willy-nilly function as its undeclared mouthpiece.

Such a monopolistic status of the state government naturally demands a total surrender of the principles of press freedom, its sense of critical assessment and also of the ethical journalism which is a sine quanon for any independent media to deliver its duty as a “watchdog of the society”. But the visiting PCI Fact Finding Team Bihar after conducting a detailed inquiry is now of the opinion that an appropriate atmosphere for the functioning of an ethical journalism working as a real “watchdog of the society” seems to be absent in the state of Bihar. Under such an ad market situation, as presently prevailing in Bihar the newspaper managements have been found to be more than willing to surrender all the norms and ethics of journalism. All this is to achieve what is called in managerial terms “adrevenue targets”. But this ad-revenue target is being achieved – at the cost of the healthy development and well-being of the society, of democratic values and more so of the established norms and principles of the ethical journalism.

This profit making corporate ideology bereft of social responsibility and legality, through the managerial bosses of the newspaper houses, has effectively reached into the newsrooms of almost all the newspapers in Bihar and has left a chilling effect leading to a situation of undeclared “selfcensorship”. This undeclared self-censorship is applied in the newsrooms in order to ensure that any material which has a potential to cause inconvenience for the state government in any way is prevented to go in print. An objective analysis of newspapers makes it quite clear that news-reports related to social audit of the state government run schemes and plans are a rarity in the newspapers of Bihar. Only those uncomfortable news-items go into the print, which might cost creditability of the newspapers. The management of the ‘friendly’ newspaper houses of the state, which includes almost all the prominent dailies of Bihar- both Hindi and English – is being issued advertisements irregularly, which can be termed gross misuse of public funds. The state government Information and Public Relations Department (IPRD) –deliberately and conveniently look the other way, while issuing advertisements even to those newspapers’ split editions, which are being published in violation of rules from different parts of the state. Almost all the split districts editions of the prominent newspapers in Bihar were found by the members of this Fact Finding Team to be being published in clear contravention to Sections 5 (2C), (3), 19 C, 6, 8(B), 14, 15 of the Press and Registration of Books Act, 1867 and Section 10 of the Registration of Newspaper Central Rules 1956. It is quite obvious that without active connivance and co-operation of the state government Information and Public Relations Department (IPRD), such illegality could not continue and that too for years together. Media brands including The Times Of India, Hindustan, Dainik Jagran, Prabhat Khabar, Roznama Rashtriya Sahara have all been found prima facie guilty of publishing their newspapers in utter violation of Sections 5 (2C), (3), 19 C, 6, 8(B), 14, 15 of the Press and Registration of Books Act, 1867 and Section 10 of the Registration of Newspaper Central Rules 1956.

It has been found that IPRD has released government advertisements to all such publications for years and years together against which all these newspaper managements raised the bills.. During the period several objections were also raised on this count time to time. Once by the state government Finance (Audit) department in the year 2006 vide its letter no. 178 dated. 9/5/2006 and twice by Bindeshwari Prasad Singh Deputy Director, in his comments on departmental files. It is also noteworthy that in course of a one to one interviews, the state IPRD officials denied even existence of any adverse comment by the then IPRD Deputy Director, Bindeshwari Prasad Singh in this regard. In course of its response to an application under the Right to Information (RTI) Act too which was signed by no other than the then IPRD Deputy Director Bindeshwari Prasad Singh (now retired), he denied it. Though in the reply to an RTI application, signed by B P Singh himself, mention that it was just a mantawya (I.e. comment) and not a “report”. However, the fact finding team on its own endeavour dug out the photo-copy of B P Singh’s comments, which is being annexed herewith this FFT Bihar report.

Surprisingly enough in spite of this issue being discussed at the IPRD level twice the practice of publication of “illegal” editions, issuance of advertisement release orders to these illegal publications and payment thereof continues. This fact amply highlights the unholy deep nexus of the newspaper management with the mandarins of the IPRD.

Bihar Advertisement Policy- 2008 eligibility criteria clearly mention as: (b) The Newspaper / periodical must be registered under the provisions of the Press and Registration of Books Act (PRB Act) 1867 by the RNI, New Delhi. But this clause has been found to be conveniently ignored by the IPRD officials while issuing release orders for the favoured newspapers and the unregistered split district editions thereof by the fact finding team. The Fact Finding Team also find mention of the term “interest of the state or work” in the Bihar Advertisement Policy-2008 which is pregnant with meanings. It could be interpreted in many ways by the government officials to harass those media houses, who dare go critical of the state government.

This term could be interpreted as per the whims and fancies of the state government or its officials to make them toe the state government line. When asked the IPRD officials too in their interaction with the Fact Finding Team conceded that it “could be explained in many ways”. However, the IPRD officials pleaded that it is a common practice that such terms are used by the government, while framing government rules and policies. The team is of the opinion that such an open-ended term smacks of state government intention to exercise control over the newspapers. The team feels that term like “interest of the state or work” should be defined and codified and should not be left to the whims and fancies of the officials for its interpretation. But the team is of the firm opinion that to ensure freedom of press enshrined in Article 19 1(a) of the Constitution of India in its letter and spirit, such vagueness should not be allowed to continue further. A good number of newspaper reporters are engaged in collecting advertisements from the private parties too on which they are also given cut money as “commission” by the newspaper management.

Such incidents also came before the fact finding team. One such reporter Sardar Surendra Singh of Gaya who was earlier working as a stringer with Aaj Hindi Daily of Patna appeared before the Fact Finding Team saying that the Aaj management has still not paid an amount to the tune of Rs. 2 lakh of the commission due to him for the advertisements, which was collected by him for his publication for which he was working with at that time.

Rashtriya Janta Dal (RJD) Rajya Sabha MP, Ramkripal Yadav while appearing before the Fact Finding 15 Team said that the state government’s pressure on media could only be gauged from the fact that even the advertisements containing some critical facts and figures which seem to be going against the state government, are not carried at all. He said that during Kosi Floods’ 2008 – his party had booked an advertisement exposing the state government through an ad agency which was not even carried by any of the newspaper house of the state but for the exception of a small newspaper Nav Bihar. He too cited a similar example of non-publication of an advertisement booked by an outfit Kisan Mahapanchayat. He said that the newspaper houses ‘management of the state denied publication of the Kisan Mahapanchayat advertisement. So much so that when the same Kisan Mahapanchayat advertisement was booked through a Delhi based ad agency it was inadvertently carried in a split edition of the Hindustan Hindi daily. But as soon as it was brought to the notice of the Hindustan management the same Kisan Mahapanchayat advertisement was immediately removed from the paper in the rest of the editions and the same advertisement amount was returned to the Delhi based ad agency which had booked the same advertisement. If there is even an iota of truth in this matter it certainly points towards a greater malaise prevailing in the state.

Now come to the new advertisement policy adopted by the state government in the year 2008. Section 4 of the Bihar Advertisement Policy, 2008 reads as: “The Empowered advertisement Committee keeping in mind requirements, the practicality and the state interest, may recommend such newspapers/periodicals, from those applying for enlistment in the approved list, as it may deem fit. It would not be binding for the Committee to include in the approved list, any newspapers/periodical in the approved list merely because it fulfils the eligibility criteria. The Committee shall have the freedom and the competency to delist any listed Newspaper / periodical in the interest of the state or work, from the approved list.”

The fact that the Empowered Advertisement Committee of the state government would not be bound to include in the approved list, any newspapers/periodical in the approved list even if it fulfils the eligibility criteria. Meaning thereby, it could be concluded that in its advertisement policy itself the newspaper management has been left at the mercy – rather on the whims and fancies – of the state government officials through the IPRD for the government advertisements. The fact finding team consider this clause to be totally against the principles of “freedom of press and media”.

It is also not without any rhyme and reason that there is not even an internal arrangement in Bihar newspapers to see to the readers’ complaints related to violation of journalistic ethics, editorial contents and of neglect of public issues. As it is found uncomfortable for those running the newspaper publications as per their self-styled version of journalistic ethics they pursue.

It is also of serious concern for the fact finding team that the Bihar Advertisement Policy-2008 has given undue emphasis on circulation of a newspaper. The policy reads as: “(e) The circulation for Hindi newspapers should not be less than 45000, for English newspapers it should not be less than 25000 and for Urdu newspapers should not be less than 20000. For periodicals the minimum circulation would be 20,000. Regarding circulation, the certification from ABC or other standard organizations would be necessary.”

This provision of the state government advertisement policy may be detrimental for the development of small and medium newspapers in the state as it is tilted towards the big newspapers/ periodicals.

This Team would like to emphasise that the topmost priority in country as well as Bihar too should be to help all the newspapers to develop both in terms of circulation and also in terms of quality.

RECOMMENDATIONS

1. Bihar Government should create conducive environment for practice of free and fair journalism in the State.

2. Review of all cases pending against journalists in the State by an independent judicial commission.

3. Government of Bihar should ensure safety of journalists and the State Government should extend all possible help in discharge of their professional duties.

4. A mechanism should be set up for regular interaction between the district administration, police with the local journalists to sort out conflicts.

5. Accreditation policy should be reviewed in consultations with journalists.

6. Hearing of cases pending against journalists in Labour Department should be fast tracked.

7. Labour department should take cognizance of complaints lodged by journalists against the management of the newspaper.

8. Introduction of free health care scheme for the journalists and their dependent.

9. Review of the State Government Advertisement Policy 2008 and constitution of an independent agency to release advertisements to news -paper houses strictly on basis of guidelines. All the government advertisements should be released through this independent ad-agency. Such committee should have adequate representations from small and medium newspaper and vernacular language papers.

10. Complaints of small and medium newspapers regarding issue of advertisements should be given due weightage and efforts should be made to redress their grievances in a fair manner without further delay.

11. Bihar Add committee should be headed by a non-government representative.

12. Decentralisation of distribution of government advertisement to district level.

13. A judicial inquiry should ordered against the newspaper publications, which are publishing without proper RNI registration and efforts should be made to recover the amount given to the such publications under Public Demand Recovery Act and no fresh advertisements should be issued to such unregistered publica

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