Uttar Pradesh’s top-selling newspaper is publishing UP government ads with bylines of ‘reporters’.
On September 5, the Samyukt Kisan Morcha, an umbrella body of over 40 farmer unions, held a mega mahapanchayat in Uttar Pradesh’s Muzaffarnagar. This grand meeting of farmers saw over 15 lakh attendees, according to Bharatiya Kisan Union leader Rakesh Tikait.
The purpose of the mahapanchayat was to focus on the farmers protesting against the central government’s new farm laws in the view of the upcoming assembly election in UP. Hundreds of journalists descended on Muzaffarnagar from Delhi to cover it.
Most of the coverage of the event came out on September 6, and the majority was on the front pages of newspapers. Dainik Jagran, however, was an exception, relegating the meeting to a two-column story on page 4.
Importantly, the front page of that edition of Jagran had full-page stories featuring a smiling chief minister Adityanath with the headline “Abundant yield, fair prices, happy farmers”.
Quotes from prime minister Narendra Modi followed, claiming that Uttar Pradesh’s farmers had benefited from “Atmanirbhar Bharat”. Adityanath was quoted as saying that farmers were his government’s “priority”; and the rest of the space comprised details of “crucial steps” taken by the UP government for the “growth” of agriculture.
At the bottom of the page, in text so tiny that a reader might miss it, were the words “Media Marketing Initiative”. It should be noted that as per the Press Council of India’s Norms for Journalistic Conduct, “that advertisements must be clearly distinguishable from news content carried in a newspaper”.
This “marketing initiative” continued on page 2, where “news reports” detailed the UP government’s achievements — “record purchase of wheat”, “enhanced facilities leading to abundant yield”, “e-mandi facilities at all ration and vegetable markets” — and quotes from rural residents praising the state government.
We call them “reports” because some of them carried the bylines of Jagran reporters. The page design also followed the newspaper’s general style.
It’s not unusual for media organisations to publish “marketing initiatives”. What’s intriguing with Jagran is that the advertorial content is published under the bylines of the newspaper’s reporters.
A quick scrutiny of Jagran’s pages shows that the newspaper carried similar two-page “marketing initiatives” four other times in September. In many cases, the ads carried bylines.
Five days after the mahapanchayat, Jagran carried the UP government’s “marketing initiatives” on pages 8 and 9. This included five “reports” with bylines.
Interestingly, some of the stories that were part of the “marketing initiative” were actual reports published in the past by Jagran or other newspapers. For instance, a story headlined “Farmers of the state will get special grant for paddy and wheat seeds” appeared on one of the pages under Rupali Dubey’s byline. The same piece appeared as a news report in the Lucknow edition of Jagran on August 17 and on its website – but without Dubey’s byline.
This wasn’t a one-off case. On the same day, the “marketing initiative” included a piece headlined “UP to implement one district, one produce scheme, will hold farm fairs” with the byline of one Arun Pathak. This piece was actually Jagran’s page 1 story in its Lucknow edition on August 21, where it appeared with the byline of Dharmesh Awasthi.
Another “report” that day was headlined “Hastinapur to get country’s first dolphin breeding centre”. The piece was previously published on Jagran’s website on August 25.
“As far as I know, this is the first time a newspaper is republishing its own reports as government advertisements,” said media analyst Vineet Kumar. “This puts a big question mark on the newspaper’s credibility.”
On September 22, Dainik Jagran had a two-page “marketing initiative” by the Adityanath government, with large photos of Modi and Adityanath. The series had Modi’s statement that UP was an “investment destination” and details of the state government’s work under the headline “UP on road to development”.
Some of the stories, again, had bylines, and repurposed old reports as part of the initiative.
One headlined “Architecture of Jewar airport building will reflect Indianness: Yogi Adityanath”, published under the byline Suyash Sharma, had been published the same day on Jagran’s website but without being marked as a “marketing initiative”.
Another story, published under Rupali Dubey’s byline, was on how government schemes must “reach the needy” and “complaints shouldn’t remain unsolved”. It was based on a statement by state minister Suresh Khanna, as reported by Uday Bhoomi on September 8. The two stories are almost identical, except that Dubey’s version skipped when Khanna’s statements were made.
The September 22 “marketing initiative” had two other stories previously published in Uday Bhoomi. The first, published by Uday Bhoomi on September 1, was on how “Ganga of development” will flow through two panchayats in Ghaziabad district. The second, published by Uday Bhoomi on September 5, was about a BJP MLA laying the foundation for development work in Loni. In the latter case, Jagran didn’t even change Uday Bhoomi’s headline.
There can be two explanations for this. First, Jagran republished Uday Bhoomi’s stories without attribution. Second, perhaps the stories are press releases from the Adityanath government, which would explain why they’re similar.
We’re still not done with September 22: a story in the “marketing initiative” – headlined “Major challenge to China toy industry: Toy park being developed” – had been published on the Jagran website on August 7 and in Navbharat Times on August 6. All three stories are strikingly similar.
Jagran carried a two-page ad by the UP government on September 29, replete with Adityanath’s photo, Modi’s statement, and details of government initiatives. Two stories that were part of this package had the bylines of Devendra Singh and Rupali Dubey. “Media marketing initiative” appeared at the bottom of the page.
This series focused on the Adityanath government’s “development work” in Azamgarh, claiming that “oxygen and ventilator facilities” were now available at three local hospitals. People would no longer have to rush to cities for medical emergencies, it said, since the government had “reformed” healthcare.
The series was presented in a way that made it sound like the government had built the three new hospitals at Lalganj, Atraulia and Tarwa, and had built five oxygen plants. The truth is, of course, quite different: the Tarwa hospital was built in 2008, and the Atraulia and Lalganj hospitals were built by the former Samajwadi Party government.
Another piece, written by Rupali Dubey, credited the state government with restoring the legacy of writers Rahul Sankrityayan and Ayodhya Singh Upadhyay. It added that the government was rebuilding Harioudh Kala Bhavan, a heritage site, at a cost of Rs 17.17 crore, though it skipped the fact that the project had been initiated by the Samajwadi Party government.
Benefits and bylines
The farmer protests against the central government’s farm laws began last year.
In January, the UP government launched a scheme, the Kisan Kalyan Mission, which it claimed would “double” farmers’ income. Simultaneously, Jagran launched its own scheme: the dissemination of “positive news” on agriculture in the state.
At the time, a senior manager at Jagran told Newslaundry: “We’re doing it only to make farmers aware of the government schemes. We have no deal with the government.”
According to government data, between 2015 and 2019, Dainik Jagran received government ads worth Rs 85.78 crore from the Modi government.
With respect to September’s “marketing initiatives” in Jagran, three bylines – Devendra Singh, Rupali Dubey, Suyash Sharma – predominantly appeared across the advertorials.
An employee of Jagran in Lucknow told Newslaundry that Singh, Dubey and Sharma are “members of the marketing team”.
“They got bylines just like that,” the employee said. “They don’t write news. They bring advertisements from the government or other organisations.”
Singh and Sharma both confirmed to Newslaundry that they work in marketing at Jagran.
When we asked Sharma why his byline was being used, sometimes even to replace an actual reporter’s byline, he disconnected the call. When we called back 24 hours later, he said he was too busy to speak.
Singh also disconnected the call, saying he was sleepy.
Newslaundry reached out to Ashutosh Shukla, the editor of Dainik Jagran in Uttar Pradesh, but he did not answer our calls.
Newslaundry emailed questionnaires to Shukla and Vikas Chandra, the vice-president of marketing at Jagran. This report will be updated if they respond.
This story was first published in Newslaundry Hindi. It was translated to English by Utkarsh Mishra.