On July 1, Urvashi Rangara, the deputy director of Haryana's Department of Information, Public Relations and Languages, dispatched a letter to district information and public relations officers with the subject line, “For district-wise information on local newspapers".
"As per instructions of the director general, all district information and public relations officers are instructed to gather correct and detailed information about the publication and distribution of local newspapers and magazines, including the type of publication, number of copies, whether is it published within the district or not," Rangara wrote, and directed the officials to relay this information to the advertising branch. “Along with this, information about newspapers, magazines and news channels published and distributed in your district that have covered the government negatively or positively in the last six months should be provided in two days.”
Similar information provided by the district officials earlier wasn’t clear, Rangara complained, and asked them to obtain the required information and relay it to the department immediately so that appropriate action can be taken.
What exactly wasn't clear in the information collected earlier?
"There was no mention earlier of organisations doing negative or positive news," an official in the information and public relations department told Newslaundry on the condition of anonymity.
But why does the Haryana government want to know which news organisations are covering it positively or negatively?
Given that Rangara's letter instructs the district officials to provide the information to the advertising department, it’s reasonable to suspect that it may be used to determine which organisations should receive government advertisements and which shouldn't.
Newslaundry called Rangara for clarification but she refused to speak about the letter and hung up the phone.
Rajesh Kumar, an employee in the advertising department, confirmed that they are receiving this information from the district officials but wouldn't say what they intend to do with it. “You should speak to our DPRO about it," he said, and disconnected the call.
After Rangara's letter became public and sparked criticism by journalists, she sent out another. “The ‘negative and positive coverage’ line has been removed from the second letter issued on July 7," said an information department employee who asked not to be named.
After the first letter became public, the Haryana Journalist Union immediately opposed it. Speaking with Newslaundry, Sanjay Rathi, a union leader, said, “The government asking for a list of media organisations doing negative or positive coverage means it wants to get the newspapers under its control. Only newspapers or organisations presenting the government’s side well would be preferred for ads. This is an unpassed law under which organisations favouring the government are rewarded and those critical are penalised. They have made it public this time.”
He added, “Small and medium newspapers in Haryana have almost shut down because the government doesn’t give them ads. On the other hand, big newspapers take crores in ad money from the government, they are no different from the government. They print what the government wants.”
Hemant Atri, former national editor of Dainik Bhaskar, said, “This is extremely unfortunate and insensitive. The department would say it happened by mistake. But it wasn’t a mistake, it shows the mentality of the public relations department. This directive exhibits what their outlook is towards the media. The information department is the eyes, nose and ears of the government. Show it what’s being printed, good or bad. But categorising the media based on the coverage is not fair.”
Had the Haryana government sent a letter like this earlier? Atri said, “A directive exactly like this hasn't come before, but all their policies are similar, policies of redtapism which show a mindset of not taking the media seriously. The job of the public relations department is to facilitate the press but the whole department is anti-media, they keep throwing a wrench in everything.”
A version of this report was previously published on .