Last week, the Narendra Modi government sent contacts of farmers who have purportedly benefited from the farm laws to several mainstream journalists.
On December 4, the India Today website carried a “ground report” on how the contentious farm laws passed by the Narendra Modi government had benefited farmers “in favourable market conditions”.
The report — titled “How new farm laws can benefit growers in a friendly market” — did not have a reporter’s byline; instead, it was attributed to the “India Today Bureau”. The dateline, however, indicated that the story had been filed from New Delhi, Roorkee in Uttarakhand, and Harda and Dewas in Madhya Pradesh.
The farmers quoted in the India Today report claimed that the new farm laws had given them greater autonomy and profit margins. “This is a pro-farmer law,” said one Manmohan Bhardwaj, a “farmer entrepreneur” from Roorkee. “But the problem is that there's a lot of politics in our country. Those in the Opposition get united to downgrade those in power."
Bhardwaj had been quoted in the report alongside Kamal Patel and Ram Vilas Gurjar, both soybean farmers from Harda and Dewas districts in Madhya Pradesh. R Nallapan, a coconut farmer from Madurai in Tamil Nadu, was also featured.
On December 7, news channel India Today ran the report at primetime. It included the video bytes of Bhardwaj, Patel and Gurjar from the article published on December 4. Music more suited to a fine dining restaurant played in the background.
Rahul Kanwal, the anchor, tweeted the segment and said that “some case studies show that a certain section of farmers is happy with the new #FarmLaws”.
However, India Today did not “find” these farmers on the ground, as it claimed. They were handed to the channel by the Narendra Modi government.
On December 3, a day before its report was published on the website, several journalists across the mainstream media had received on WhatsApp a list of farmers and their “success stories” from the office of Prakash Javadekar, who heads the Ministry of Information and Broadcasting and the Ministry of Environment, Forest and Climate Change. The material was sent in both English and Hindi, in pdf and doc formats.
Three journalists who received the material confirmed to Newslaundry that it was sent via WhatsApp by S Satyanarayanan, the media advisor to Javadekar. A former journalist himself, Satyanarayanan was also a media consultant at the Ministry of Education when Javadekar was at its helm.
One of the documents in this material was titled “Note on Success Stories of FPOs after New Central Ordinances, 2020 with contact details”. It contained pointers on the “objectives” of the farm laws and its “benefits”. There was paragraph-long information on more than a dozen Farmers Producer Organisations, or FPOs, from West Bengal, Madhya Pradesh, and Odisha, among others, that had purportedly benefited from the laws. Their contact details were also provided.
A second document was simply titled “Success Stories” and had briefings on 25 farmers from across India who had allegedly made gains since the farm laws were implemented. Their mobile numbers were included in the list.
A third document from the government was titled “Farmer Feedback”. It had the contact details of eight more farmers, mostly from Madhya Pradesh, and information about how the farm laws had made their businesses better.
Bharadwaj, Gurjar and Patel — the farmers quoted in the India Today report — were mentioned in Satyanarayan’s documents. Nallapan was not named specifically, but the “success story” document does mention a Madurai-based FPO that had produced gains for four coconut farmers since “for the first time, the coconuts were auctioned through a regulated market in Madurai”.
Other farmers mentioned in the material circulated by Javadekar’s office have been mentioned in government propaganda on the farm laws. Last month, the examples of two such farmers, Jitendra Bhoi and Mohammad Aslam, were mentioned by Prime Minister Narendra Modi in his Mann Ki Baat address. “These reforms have not only served to unshackle our farmers but also given them new rights and opportunities,” Modi had said.
On December 2, CNN News18 broadcast a segment on Bhoi, a farmer in Maharashtra’s Dhule district, with an onscreen banner “Farm Laws to the Rescue”.
Between December 4 and December 6, DD News carried bytes of farmers mentioned in the material — including Kamal Patel and Ram Vilas Gurjar who were featured in India Today.
Javadekar himself tweeted one of these videos on December 9.
Journalists covering the Narendra Modi government told Newslaundry that such tactics of “media management” by the government have become common. Not just the I&B ministry, but other ministries too send pointers to journalists to elicit sympathetic coverage. While not everyone takes these plants and reports them, a few do.
The heightened protests against the farm laws since November has produced a predictable reaction from a section of the mainstream media, especially TV channels: labelling farmers as separatists, calling them misled, and alleging that they are pawns of opposition parties.
This has led to a groundswell of anger against this section of the media — or “godi media” — at the farmer protests on the outskirts of Delhi.
Newslaundry reached out to India Today and Prakash Javadekar for comments. This story will be updated if we receive a response.
With inputs from Rebecca Rose Varghese