Indian journalists have spun an advertisement in Time by the Uttar Pradesh government as the American magazine’s “praise” and “appreciation” for the state’s Covid response.
On January 6, Zee News, News18 UP, ABP Ganga, and TV9 Bharatvarsh reported that Time had “praised Yogi Adityanath government's work on corona control”. They were referring to an advertisement that appeared in the Indian edition of the magazine’s December 21/28 edition.
Before it appeared as an advertisement in Time, the piece was sent out as a government press briefing to journalists in Uttar Pradesh in December. And publications such as Tehelka subsequently ran it with minimal editing.
The three-page Time ad mentioned how Adityanath’s “excellent and efficient” Covid management model had allegedly seen the Covid death rate fall to 1.3 percent in India’s most populous state. “Being positive in a negative situation is not naive, it is leadership,” it declared. “No other leader exemplifies this than the Uttar Pradesh Chief Minister Yogi Adityanath.”
After several Indian media outlets went to town declaring that Time had lavished praise on Adityanath, the magazine confirmed to Newslaundry that the feature “is sponsored content, as indicated by the 'Content From Uttar Pradesh' language that appears on the advertisement page”.
It was Adityanath’s office that had first boasted about the ad on December 15, falsely calling it a “report”.
"Hang In There, Better Times are Ahead"@UPGovt Innovate Covid Management Model.— Yogi Adityanath Office (@myogioffice) December 15, 2020
UP CM Shri @myogiadityanath Jiâs deft handling of the COVID-19 situation is an extraordinary example of health administration under most trying circumstances.
Read full report in @TIME ... pic.twitter.com/0PKV8V1VBe
In the following weeks, several popular social media accounts spread the fake news. They included the account of Swatantra Dev Singh, the president of the Bharatiya Janata Party in Uttar Pradesh, and Ashish Chauhan, the chief executive officer of the Bombay Stock Exchange.
Congratulations Shri @myogiadityanath ji for setting an example for the world on how to fight COVID. The UP Model getting applauded and recognized by TIME magazine speaks a lot about the efficient governance. @navneetsehgal3 pic.twitter.com/ZIBt4eFrnl— Ashish Chauhan (@ashishchauhan) January 4, 2021
âBeing positive in a negative situation is not naive, it is leadership. No other leader exemplifies this than the UP CM Shri @myogiadityanath Jiâ— Swatantra Dev Singh (@swatantrabjp) January 6, 2021
Time magazine has published an article on UPâs covid management model.
A matter of great pride for Uttar Pradesh. pic.twitter.com/tsunTNmdVR
In January 2021, it was time for TV news channels to spin the paid content as a “report” that was a “matter of great pride for Uttar Pradesh”.
On January 6, News 18 UP over how Time magazine had complimented Adityanath’s leadership and his “proactive approach” in handling the pandemic. “Yogi’s incredible efforts are not only appreciated in the country, but they also echo around the world,” exclaimed the anchor.
“Time magazine appreciates UP CM Yogi Adityanath government's work,” , adding that the world was now recognising his actions.
Time, in fact, had the Adityanath government in November 2020 for promulgating a “love jihad” law based on an “anti-Muslim conspiracy theory”, calling the chief minister “a hardline Hindu nationalist monk”. In May 2019, the publication had drawn the ire of Hindu nationalists after calling prime minister Narendra Modi “” on its cover.
None of the TV news channels bothered to give us this background, nor did they check if the Time “report” had a byline or whether it was even a report.
This story, though, has a backstory.
The Adityanath government’s Time advertisement is in fact a shortened version of a detailed press release, accessed by Newslaundry, sent to journalists in early December. It laid out the talking points about the government’s Covid response – contact tracing, lockdown, Team 11, Covid hospitals, testing, etc.
And before the Adityanath government paid for the press release to be carried by Time, it had been published in several Indian publications, with minor editing and no challenge.
It first appeared on First India, an English newspaper published in Rajasthan, Delhi, Uttar Pradesh, and Gujarat, and managed and edited by Jagdeesh Chandra, a former Zee executive. A December 5 frontpage report in First India bears a striking resemblance to the advertisement in Time. Titled “”, it carries this glorious adage in full caps: “BEING POSITIVE IN A NEGATIVE SITUATION IS NOT NAIVE. IT IS LEADERSHIP.”
Another English paper, the Daily Guardian, the press release into a report on December 9.
A week later, on December 14, the same sentences, talking points and factoids found their way into a Tehelka . Newslaundry learnt that the piece appeared after staffers at the magazine, once known for adversarial and investigative journalism, were told to go “soft” on the Adityanath government.
“What else can we do?” asked a staffer when asked why the magazine had recycled a government press release into a report. “There are no jobs and little pay. We have more or less become clerks in the hands of the management here.”
The staffer added that after the cuddly report on Adityanth’s accomplishments, Tehelka got several pages of ads from the Uttar Pradesh government. “If you want to find journalism in Uttar Pradesh today, you’ll have to go out looking for it with a candle,” the employee said. “The state government does not answer queries like it once did. Only certain news agencies, channels and ANI get preference.”
On December 17, the Indian Express published an by Amit Mohan Prasad, Uttar Pradesh’s additional chief secretary, health. Prasad’s column dealt with the state’s “strategic interventions” in handling the Covid crisis. Unsurprisingly, it was little more than a summary of the press release.
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