The Jagran group is running a disingenuous PR campaign for UP government’s farm policies, and enriching itself in the process.
For two weeks in January this year, four vans bearing the Dainik Jagran masthead drove across the length and breadth of Uttar Pradesh. They were, as India’s largest newspaper by circulation told us on January 7, meant to spread the word about the Adityanath government’s “pro-farmer, beneficial schemes and how farmers can avail them”.
On January 6, Jagran Josh, the Jagran group’s English news website, announced that a three-week campaign by Adityanath’s BJP government around its farm policies, called Kisan Kalyan Mission, would be “organised in every development block of all 75 districts” of Uttar Pradesh.
Dainik Jagran was going to promote this government campaign. However, the alliance extended beyond the vans. The paper’s Lucknow supplement carried at least one article on the campaign every day between January 6 and January 21. Cartoons in the daily mocked the ongoing farmer protests on the borders of Delhi and its editorials called for strict action against the protesters.
Simultaneously, a website section dedicated to the campaign ran 11 fawning articles hailing the state’s BJP government for its farm policies.
Staffers at Dainik Jagran told Newslaundry that these articles were passed on to them by the newspaper’s editorial department and published under a reporter’s byline after only a proofread. We found the claims made in these articles were dubious and picked directly from the speeches of BJP leaders without attribution.
Jagran executives, however, maintained that the paper’s promotion of the campaign was not a formal tie-up between the Adityanath government and the media house. However, data published by the Bureau of Outreach and Communication, under the central government, reveals that the Jagran group – which publishes the dailies Dainik Jagran in Hindi, Mid-Day in English, and Inquilab in Urdu – earned over Rs 92 crore in revenue from print and digital advertisements by the Modi government between 2015 and 2019.
‘Dainik Jagran is with the government in this campaign’
Over a month into the farmer protests, including at Ghazipur on Delhi’s border with UP, the Adityanath government launched Kisan Kalyan Mission – or Farmer Welfare Mission – at Dadupur village in Lucknow’s Sarojini Nagar on January 6.
Inaugurated by chief minister Adityanath, the campaign, a press release by the state’s information directorate said, was meant “to bring prosperity in the lives of farmers" who would get “useful information about modern farming which will help increase their income”. It would cover 825 blocks in the state between January 6 and January 21.
The same day, Dainik Jagran flagged off four vans from its Lucknow bureau that would “roam across the state” with “progressive farmers sharing inspiring stories of their success” with other farmers. The logo of the government’s campaign was pasted all over the vans. A front-page ad in the newspaper that day called it an “awareness super campaign”, complete with a page-length photo of Adityanath. It declared: “Dainik Jagran appreciates these efforts of the state government taken in the interest of the farmers and is with them in this government campaign.”
Jagran sent out four vans as part of Kisan Kalyan Mission. Photo courtesy Dainik Jagran
On January 9, the newspaper launched a special section on its website to promote the campaign at an event at Lucknow’s Lok Bhawan. Shishir Singh, director of the state’s information and public relations department, was the chief guest. Dainik Jagran UP editor Ashutosh Shukla and general manager JK Dwivedi were also in attendance.
“The dream of farm prosperity is being fulfilled by the Yogi government,” declared the special section’s “About Us” page. “Due to the historical and revolutionary steps taken in the last 3.5 years, the changes in the villages and fields have increased the income of farmers to double.”
It added that with the “expansion” and “modernisation” of sugar mills in the state, farmers were paid a “record sugarcane price”.
Jagran’s claims are bogus at best. In 2017, the government’s think tank, NITI Aayog, had calculated that doubling of farm incomes by 2022 would require an annual GDP growth rate of 10.4 percent, which hasn’t materialised since. In January 2020, IndiaSpend reported that agriculture experts remained skeptical of this promise, and it was likely farm incomes under the Modi government would remain stagnant.
Sugarcane production in UP faces serious problems. Earlier this month, Newslaundry spoke to protesting sugarcane farmers from western UP at Ghazipur. They claimed that the remunerative price for their crop hasn’t increased in two years and that local sugar mills haven’t paid them for their produce since March 2020, although the Adityanath government had promised the payment of dues within 14 days. Those who did receive payment got it without interest, in violation of the Sugarcane Control Order of 1966.
Here are select headlines from the 11 articles published on Jagran’s website.
Recycling articles, no attribution
The reports published on Jagran’s website as part of Kisan Kalyan Mission resemble press releases by the Adityanath government. Not only do they regurgitate information and claims made in old news reports, they also contain unverified claims made by BJP leaders, including the chief minister, which are reproduced without attribution.
For instance, a Jagran report from January 8, headlined “UP sets new record by paying dues to sugarcane farmers, with highest sugar production”, states that under the Bahujan Samaj Party government between 2007 and 2012, as many as 19 sugar mills were shut. The succeeding Samajwadi Party government closed 10 mills between 2012 and 2017. As a result, the report adds, sugarcane farmers faced a “big crisis”, which Adityanath “started resolving on a priority basis as soon as he took the reins in 2017”.
These claims are picked entirely from a Zee News report from June 2020 quoting Adityanath himself. It reads: “Chief Minister Yogi Adityanath said that 19 sugar mills were closed in Uttar Pradesh from 2007 to 2012 during the BSP government. He added that during the Samajwadi Party government, Akhilesh Yadav stopped operations at 10 mills. As a result, sugarcane farmers of the state were facing a big crisis. Chief Minister Yogi said that as soon as he took over the reins of Uttar Pradesh in 2017, he started resolving the problems of sugarcane farmers on a priority basis.”
The report published on January 8, titled “The Yogi government worked for the prosperity and progress of farmers during the coronavirus pandemic”, claims the state government provided special facilities to farmers during the pandemic lockdown. It adds that 119 sugar mills were operating during the lockdown, 11,180 lakh quintals of sugarcane was crushed, and 1,264 lakh quintals of sugar were produced.
We are not told how Jagran verified the efficacy or implementation of these measures, or where it got these figures. A Google search reveals these numbers were given by the state’s principal secretary for sugarcane and sugar industry in June 2020. The facilities quoted in the Jagran report were announced by UP’s agriculture minister Surya Pratap Shahi in April last year.
Similarly, an infographic on the website’s special section says the Adityanath government has paid more than Rs 29,000 crore to over 33 lakh wheat farmers for their produce. Again, no source is cited. An Amar Ujala report from December 2020 tells us this claim was made by a spokesperson of the UP government.
“These articles come from the editorial department of our paper,” a staffer at Dainik Jagran told Newslaundry. “Then the language is corrected and headlines are prepared, and they are published on the website.”
Another staffer at the daily confirmed this.
Jagran vs farmer protests
Jagran has been vocally opposed to the farmer protests since they arrived along Delhi’s borders in late November. A day after it launched the campaign, the newspaper carried a stinging editorial titled "The Attitude of Farmer Leaders".
"The way these leaders have opened the front against agricultural laws by resorting to lies, it seems that the situation [of agriculture] was better, but it is not true,” lectured the paper, which carries fake news often. “The work of solving the problems of farmers has been done through the new agricultural laws."
The paper advocated state action against these leaders. "Since the farmer leaders are not deterring from tricking the farmers,” it said, “the government should be ready to take strict action against them."
Another editorial on January 13 caricatured the protest as a setup by the Congress and the Left parties. "It is clear from the attitude of the farmer leaders that they want to fulfill their narrow interests rather than seek solutions to the problems of the farmers,” it opined. “With this, it is also clear that the Congress and the Left parties are using them to turn around their political fortunes.”
The volleys did not just come through print. The protests were mocked through cartoons drawn by one Madhav Joshi. One of them printed on January 12 shows a Sikh farmer sitting on a tractor carrying harvested crops. The caption reads: "Paji! Since you’re busy protesting, can I sell my produce outside the mandi? The prices are good!”
Another cartoon printed the next day played on the Hindi word hal, a homophone that means plough as well solution: “Farmers use a hal, but they do not want a hal.”
Is Jagran’s campaign a collaboration with the UP government?
Jagran’s special section on Kisan Kalyan Mission carries the logo of the Uttar Pradesh government beside its own. The campaign logo is plastered across the daily’s website and its vans. One would assume that this entails a paid collaboration between the government and the newspaper.
Newslaundry reached out to Ashutosh Shukla, the editor of Dainik Jagran in Uttar Pradesh, over phone and Whatsapp. Shukla disconnected the call and has not responded to a set of questions we sent him.
Navneet Sehgal, the additional chief secretary of UP’s information directorate, told us the government is not involved with the paper’s campaign. “If someone is running a campaign, then what is your problem?” Sehgal asked. "We advertise with everyone. If one of them wants to support us, we will stop them or ask them why they are doing so.”
Asked about the logo and the pro-government rhetoric of the Jagran campaign, Sehgal said the daily was doing “good work”. “If they do something wrong then do tell me. They are doing good work and we have no objection,” he said.
Sehgal asked us to send him our other questions, which we did. We will update this report if he responds.
Vikas Chandra, vice president of marketing at the Jagran Group, told Newslaundry that the campaign was designed by him. Like Sehgal, Chandra too denied any collaboration with the government.
"This campaign is being done to increase the enthusiasm of the farmers," Chandra told Newslaundry. “Whatever good work has been done by the government, we are spreading among people through news. It is not a crime to send good work to your readers. Jagran has been India's number one newspaper for a long time because of its readers. We get information from the Department of Agriculture in the UP government. We fact-check and convey it to our readers.”
When questioned about the blatant nature of this public relations exercise, the daily’s recycling of old news and non-attribution of claims to BJP leaders, Chandra’s reply did not change. "If we do something for free, then nobody should have any problem. We are not promoting the schemes of the government, but are passing on the work done in the interest of the farmers,” he said.
Rs 92 crore and counting
Government ad money to Dainik Jagran has more than doubled during Modi’s tenure. According to data provided by the Bureau of Outreach and Communication, which manages the central government’s advertising strategy and expenditure, the daily received ad revenue worth Rs 85.7 crore between 2015 and 2019.
Between 2010 and 2013, when the Congress-led UPA was in power, Jagran received a total of Rs 33.2 crore in ads. This is dwarfed by the Rs 36.4 crore that it plucked from the Centre in 2017-18 alone.
The English daily, Mid-Day, got Rs 67 lakh in ads between 2010 and 2013. For the 2015-2018 period, this figure stands at Rs 2.3 crores. In December last year, a Caravan report on Inquilab reported that the Urdu daily received Rs 9.3 lakh in ads 2009-10, which increased to Rs 30.1 lakh in 2018-19.
If one includes the digital advertising figures released by the Bureau of Outreach and Communication, the total ads for all three Jagran publications and their digital arms comes to a whopping Rs 92.2 crore.
A report from 2019 states that Dainik Jagran cornered over Rs 100 crore in government ad revenue between 2014-15 and 2018-19.
These numbers only reflect the central government’s ads expenditure. The Adityanth government, which advertises with the Jagran group separately, has not made its ad spend public. We filed a Right to Information enquiry with the UP government on January 13, 2021, but didn’t receive a reply as of February 19, 2021.
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