74 full-page advertisements in 3 English newspapers over 6 days: Narendra Modi and Arvind Kejriwal show how media silence can be bought before an election by the square centimetre

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Fact: government advertising is what sustains “free media” in India, and pulling back government ads is standard operating procedure.

Fact: the government was the biggest advertiser in print and on television before the 2014 elections, overtaking FMCG, automotive, etc.

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Still, it takes the breath away to see the quantum of public money being splurged by the Narendra Modi government at the Centre and the Arvind Kejriwal government in Delhi to court newspapers ahead of the general elections.

In just the first six days of March 2019, the two governments have taken out an astonishing 74 full-page advertisements in three Delhi newspapers, the Hindustan Times, The Times of India, and The Indian Express.

These full-page ads are ads in which the two leaders alone are featured. There are other smaller ads and strip ads which have not been measured.

Multiply this kind of ad spend by the Modi government to the various editions of these newspapers, and the various regional and local papers, to get the full extent of this obscene waste of taxpayers’ money.

The charitable way of looking at this ad splurge is to see it as a government in its final days trying to get the message across. The less-charitable way is to see it as a naked form of silencing the media before an election.

In January 2019, the Narendra Modi government increased ad rates for newspapers by 25 per cent—and by 11 per cent for private news channels.

Looking at the kind of ads being pushed by the governments, it is obvious there is no research backing the choice of media vehicle or the target audience—or the impact.

For the record, Bloomberg reported quoting government data in December 2018 that the Modi government spent $680 million (approximately Rs 5,000 crore) on promoting Modi’s flagship projects and achievements.

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Also read: Kashmir newspapers vow to fight ad freeze on dailies

What sustains the “free media” is government advertising

Swapan Dasgupta: Are government ads distorting media freedom?

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