Hint: when Patanjali pays, Patanjali is served.
Baba Ramdev and his Patanjali business empire invaded the news space after announcing a wonder medicine to fight coronavirus called Coronil and Swasari. While launching the drug, Ramdev said this:
Essentially, the claim being made is that they have found a cure for coronavirus even as the entire world is scrambling to develop medicines and vaccines for this deadly virus which has killed more than 4.6 lakh people globally. The strange part is that this grand launch and event is not being fact-checked by most media houses nor are they giving any disclaimers while reporting on it.
On top of it, Ramdev’s wild claims are being aired without question by channels such as India TV. Here’s one report where Ramdev is clearly saying, “There is no need to take allopathy medicines if you take Coronil
And then the anchor makes him do some yoga, of course. Asked whether he has taken approval from ‘Indian Drug Association’, he responds that the approval process for Ayurvedic drugs is different. He says, “Just like allopathic drugs don’t require approval from the Ayurveda-wale, similarly Ayurveda doesn’t need approval from allopathy-wale.”
One small point to note here, the regulator for drugs in India is actually the Drug Controller General of India whose approval must be sought before a drug is put on the market. But for fawning ET Now anchors and Babaji alike, that doesn’t really matter in the larger scheme of things.
Meanwhile, the AYUSH ministry has asked Patanjali to stop publicising Coronil until further studies are conducted to determine its effectiveness.
Even the Indian Council of Medical Research has distanced itself from the claims made by Patanjali.
But that ain’t stopping our news channels from airing interviews of Baba Ramdev. Here is Times Now’s EXPLOSIVE EXCLUSIVE interview with him under the hashtag #RamdevCoronaCure.
Our colleague Basant Kumar investigated this claim by Patanjali and found some startling facts.
He found the trial that was conducted to determine the effectiveness of Coronil was flawed. Patanjali administered the medicine to suspected patients and then claimed they had tested negative. Mind you, these were suspected patients who had merely claimed to have come in contact with a Covid-19 patient and had been quarantined. They had not been tested before this drug was actually administered, so there is no way to prove that they were positive to begin with.
Another claim being made is that patients are cured within 14 days when they take Coronil. Fourteen days is actually the normal incubation period for the virus, so a lot of people who are infected get cured by taking common allopathic medicines or none at all. Newslaundry found that a lot of patients who did not take Coronil also tested negative so there is no proven efficacy of this Babaji ki Buti.
Dr Raj Kumar, chief medical officer of Meerut, told Newslaundry: "This claim is wrong. We didn't have any doctors who tested positive...we never told them to take Patanjali medicines...If they never tested positive, then saying they tested negative because of this is wrong. People who didn't take meds also tested negative in 14 days."
So, now the big question is: why are TV channels so eager to project this medicine as a cure? Why aren’t they avoiding interviewing Ramdev till the effectiveness of the drug is proved, especially since both the AYUSH ministry and the ICMR have distanced themselves from this?
The answer might lie somewhere in the magical world of advertising. As per a 2018 list of the 10 most influential brands in the country, prepared by the market research firm IPSOS, Patanjali features at number four.
Since 2018, it seems like Patanjali’s influence has only grown by leaps and bounds. Take Tuesday, for example, the day this drug was launched and Babaji was giving interviews to multiple news channels.
I present to you, some glorious Patanjali ads.
Here is Aaj Tak.
Here is ABP News.
And just look at the coverage. “Two pills and one drop…corona patients cured 100%?”
Great use of the question mark, ABP News. Well done, indeed!
Here is India TV. Check out the ads at the bottom of the screen.
And here’s Zee News.
In another development, Patanjali has responded to queries from the AYUSH ministry, giving details about the composition of the medicine and the trials conducted to prove its effectiveness. You can read the complete response here.
In Patanjali’s response, they have given the inclusion and exclusion criteria for this trial as well.
It’s very clear that they did not even bother to test the drug on severely symptomatic patients and those with Acute Respiratory Distress Syndrome, or ARDS. These are the most vulnerable groups of patients, with a high morbidity rate. Mind you, this entire response was given after the ministry told them to stop publicising the drug as a cure.
At 7 pm on June 23, by their own admission:
When Arnab Goswami asks Ramdev about the ban on publicising the drug, he responds, “We are not doing any publicity...We are just showing our research and findings…We have provided documents to the ministry and this controversy will now resolve itself.”
Which means, by the time this response was sent, Ramdev had already appeared on multiple channels declaring Coronil as a cure, and his launch was covered by practically all news channels. Speaking about promotions, he even says at one point, “Ye sab shabdo ka khel hai. Arnab bhai aap toh media mein hai, aap samajhte hai ye sab.” This is all wordplay. Brother Arnab, you are in the media, you understand all this.
This flurry of advertisements for Patanjali products, not just yesterday but for years, must make one wonder about the tone and tenor that news channels are taking while covering this shady medicine launch. This is one big example of how advertising influences news coverage.
The smiling anchors fawning over Babaji as he tells people they don’t need to take allopathic medicines, about how he doesn’t need to take approval for Ayurvedic medicines, how India is becoming atmanirbhar, and essentially selling an untested product to a desperate population waiting for an actual cure – all of this reeks of insidiousness on the part of news channels and Patanjali.
That’s why we at Newslaundry keep saying: when advertisers pay, advertisers are served. In this case, it’s quite obvious that TV news channels are serving Patanjali by bending over backwards and providing a platform to grow their business.
Looking at all this trickery, these words bear repeating: when the public pays, the public is served. Subscribe to Newslaundry so that we can keep calling out such insidious attempts to wreak havoc on the health, and sanity, of hapless viewers.
The coronavirus crisis has shown how precarious the media model that runs on ads is. And how essential it is for the media to be powered by paying readers and viewers to be free and independent. For when the public pays, the public is served and when the advertiser pays, the advertiser is served. Pay to keep news free by subscribing to Newslaundry today.