By Sandeep Sahu*
The Biju Janata Dal (BJD) certainly knows how to get the Odisha media – at least the potentially troublesome sections within it – to keep its mouth shut. Just bombard them with advertisements.
Newspaper readers across the state have, of late, woken up to full page coloured advertisements with the smiling visage of party supremo Naveen Patnaik extolling one virtue of the BJD government or the other every morning.
Sometimes, the ads also abandon their propagandist overtones and take on a combative tone – like the day after Narendra Modi’s successful rallies in Nuapada, Bolangir and Rourkela when the ad screamed; “Where were they at the time of Phailin?”
Television channels too have more than their fair share of advertisements – enough to keep them in good humour and not nitpick with the party on one issue or the other.
One particular TV ad actually sells the 108 Ambulance as something that the Naveen Patnaik government has given to the people of the state! (Curiously, neither of the two major opposition parties – Congress and BJP – has challenged this even as they have lodged complaints about the misuse of the 108 Ambulance for carrying cash.)
The ruling party’s media managers say the strategy has worked just fine. “With full page ads on the front page every morning, we have achieved two things. First, we have made sure that the newspaper reader wakes up to the achievements of our government. Second, we have gobbled up the first page and with it the chance of anything critical appearing on the front page,” said a party leader closely involved with the ‘management’ of the media.
Newspapers and television channels are hardly complaining. They are busy counting the moolah – most of it in cash, mind you. After all, elections don’t happen every day nor does such manna fall from heaven often.
The value – and the size – of the ads vary according to the standing of the newspaper and television channel concerned and its political leanings, party insiders say. They point to the same ad appearing in full page size in one newspaper and in quarter page size in another as an indication of the different yardsticks fixed for individual media houses.
The going rate for a full page ad in a major newspaper, according to sources in the thick of things, is between Rs 8 to 10 lakh per insertion, of which only about 25% is paid in cheque (after deducting the agency commission of 15%) and the rest in cash, to beat the Election Commission ceiling on expenditure. For smaller ones, it could be anything between Rs 50, 000 to Rs 2 lakh. Given that the largesse has been pouring in for well over a fortnight now, the cumulative outgo from the BJD coffers would work out to several crores by the time the campaign ends on Tuesday.
It goes without saying that such large sums of money seldom come without a quid pro quo attached to it.
“It does not have to be spelt out in as many words. When you accept that kind of money, a major part of it in cash, it is understood that you won’t publish anything very damaging about the ruling party or the government,” admits the owner of a vernacular daily who has been a recipient of the windfall.
Apart from the desirability of media houses accepting such a quid pro arrangement, there is also the question of the large amount of black money generated in the process, the media’s willing acquiescence in the whole business and the larger question of media ethics.
As for the BJD, its huge ad spend makes its appeal for ‘donations’ from the public on social media platforms look grossly incongruous.
*Sandeep Sahu is the Executive Editor of odishasuntimes.com