Uttar Pradesh’s economy is allegedly flourishing: it is on an industrial route to higher growth, expressways are speeding up growth, the food processing industry is “all juiced up”, and UP is the top choice for investors now.
All this according to four pages of “reports” published across editions of the Economic Times today. Readers were greeted with four pages of “news” about Uttar Pradesh’s economy this morning, published under a section called “Uttar Pradesh: A Special Report”, from page 17 to page 20.
Eight of these “reports'' were carried with bylines of Economic Times reporters, while the rest were with “Team ET”. Interviews with Satish Mahane, the state minister of industrial development, and Awanish Awasthi, CEO of the Uttar Pradesh Expressways Industrial Development Authority, were also featured in the “special report".
But were these indeed news reports, or advertorials carried under the garb of news?
There was no disclaimer or clear marker given to indicate it was the latter, as required by publications when they carry advertorials, though the font seemed marginally different from other pages. What stood out was that all the stories on the pages were “good news” about the UP government.
Besides an overview "story," the package featured stories about roads, IT and electronics, food processing, real estate and tourism. In edited excerpts of the "conversation" with UPEIDA CEO Awanish Awasthi featured on page 20, the reporter's "questions" were merely prompts to speak about expressways and e-ways. Not one question was asked.
Some of the headlines of the “stories” were “RERA builds confidence in reality”, “A Tech-tonic shift towards transparency”, “Not just Taj, get ready to explore other wonders”.
Joydip Bhattacharya, brand lead at Economic Times, told Newslaundry that the four pages were an “editorial initiative” – something that’s done for other states as well. Another senior editor at the newspaper, who did not want to be named, said that the reports were not a marketing initiative and were “stories done by the journalists”.
The reporters under whose bylines the stories were published are Vatsala Gaur, who is the newspaper’s Uttar Pradesh correspondent, Kirtika Suneja, Faizan Haidar, Anumeha Chaturvedi, and Mihir Mishra.
Advertorials have made the wall between advertising and editorial department porous, raising serious ethical questions. The problem is not that they are ads disguised as news reports, but that they often lack readily visible markers, leading readers to believe they are news reports by journalists.
In the recent past, and have also published UP government advertorials with bylines of "reports".
Newslaundry reached out to the journalists who had their bylines in the pieces. While two of them refused to speak, two other reporters did not respond to our calls. The newspaper’s executive editor, Bodhisattva Ganguli, was also not reachable for a comment.
In “A Tech-tonic shift towards transparency”, which carried Vatsala Gaur’s byline, the story began with UP’s large population and how the state has to deal with corruption in government processes.
It went on to say how now, with “widespread adoption of technology”, the state is seen to be making “significant strides in the area of egovernance, boosting transparency and efficiency”.
It continued: “A telling example of the state’s success in ensuring almost cent percent adherence to the DBT principle being driven by the centre, is the ease of compensation to farmers and landowners whose lands have been acquired for various expressways. Social experts conducting impact assessments have vouched that the beneficiaries got their due within a week, directly into their registered accounts, when compensation due to some for national highways constructed 15-20 years ago is still pending.”
While there were data points mentioned, there was no social expert or farmer quoted in the story but instead, the additional chief secretary of information, Navneet Sehgal.
A story titled “Not just Taj, get ready to explore other wonders” described how Kushinagar international airport, inaugurated by prime minister Narendra Modi earlier this month, will put the state on the global tourism map.
The lead story of the four-page package, headlined “Industrial route to higher growth”, was about how Uttar Pradesh is “targeting greater and geographically spread industrialization to raise economic growth and lift incomes of poorer regions, promising a liberal investment policy and better infrastructures to investors.”
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