58 op-eds were published across newspapers, and it’s unlikely media houses charged for them.
If you were in Delhi in September, it was hard to miss the relentless media blitz surrounding the G20 summit. From billboards to posters, the Narendra Modi government went all out to educate the public on the importance of India’s presidency of the G20.
If you weren’t in Delhi, it still couldn’t have gone unnoticed. Newspapers across the country were populated with stories on the G20, commissioned by the central government’s official publicity wing, the Press Information Bureau.
All these stories were written by government officials or union ministers. They highlighted government schemes that aligned with the G20’s goals, they praised Modi, and explained the significance of India’s presidency.
As per an RTI response received by Newslaundry, the PIB headquarters in New Delhi commissioned 13 articles related to the G20 to be published in 263 newspapers across the country. These included small newspapers in Manipur, Kashmir and Sikkim.
Independently, the PIB’s bureau in Mumbai commissioned five stories. Two of them also figured in the PIB headquarters list.
According to the RTI response, the Bengaluru bureau did not independently commission any articles on India’s G20 presidency. Instead, it translated 14 articles sent to it by PIB headquarters and sent them to newspapers to publish. Of the 14, 11 figured on the list of stories commissioned by PIB headquarters.
The Chennai bureau too did not commission any article but translated seven articles sent by PIB headquarters and sent them to newspapers.
The Kolkata bureau published 15 commissioned articles in Bangla and English, and 11 in Hindi and Urdu.
What did these articles say?
One piece on April 14 was written by Gajendra Singh Shekhawat, union minister for Jal Shakti, and published in 14 newspapers. It focused on India’s efforts to strengthen cooperation among the G20 countries over water resources. Sample this: “Under the visionary leadership of Modiji, the Government of India has taken several initiatives to improve the quality of life of its 1.4 billion people.”
Another by union health minister Mansukh Mandaviya said Modi had laid the foundation of an “inclusive global health architecture” through India’s G20 presidency. Published in 25 newspapers, including Mera Watan in Urdu and Jai Hind in Gujarati, it said the “foundation of the bridge that connects the global south and global north to build a truly inclusive and holistic universal health architecture” had been laid when Modi said that India should open innovations for public good and avoid duplication of funding.
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Bivash Ranjan, the additional director general of forests and wildlife in the union environment ministry, wrote that Modi’s vision for India’s presidency had been “ambitious, inclusive, decisive, and action-oriented”. It was published in March in at least 21 newspapers.
At least three commissioned articles on the G20 were published in January. A story on January 8 on the G20 “globalising financial inclusion” was authored by chief economic advisor Anantha Nageswaran and economic advisor Chanchal Sarkar. The RTI response indicated that this was the first PIB-commissioned article of the current year. It was carried by 43 publications across the country, including in Chhattisgarh, Uttar Pradesh, and Jammu and Kashmir.
Nageswaran wrote another piece on January 13, this time with consultant Aparajita Tripathi, on “understanding infrastructure” and “building cities of tomorrow”. The piece was printed in 29 newspapers, with at least seven of them located in Chhattisgarh, five in Manipur, and six in Uttar Pradesh.
The third article commissioned by the PIB came out on January 24. Written by Rupa Dutta, principal advisor for the department for promotion of industry and internal trade, it was published in 27 newspapers, including five in Jammu and Kashmir and Sikkim each.
The next piece was published on February 4, focusing on sustainability being a “key focus” for India at the G20. Written by RK Singh, union minister for power and new and renewable energy, it featured in 52 publications, of which 11 were in Chhattisgarh and seven in Jammu and Kashmir.
One of the most published articles – see here, here, here and here – on the G20 was by Alok Kumar, secretary in the ministry of power. Published on February 6 and 7 in at least 61 newspapers across India, it credited India’s G20 presidency for weaving “inclusive growth” and “universal togetherness”, and featured in 61 newspapers across the country. As many as 15 newspapers in Uttar Pradesh carried it.
A week later, on February 15, Alok Kumar wrote another piece on the key takeaways of the G20 energy working group. Thirty-one newspapers published it.
A commissioned piece was also written by Apollo Hospitals joint managing director Sangita Reddy, in collaboration with Niti Aayog’s senior advisor Anna Roy. Published on March 16 across 15 newspapers – see here, here and here – it said women entrepreneurship was a key pillar for India at the G20.
Other articles focused on water resources, public health and anti-corruption efforts. For example, Pankaj Kumar, secretary of the water resources department, had a piece published on March 28 in 55 newspapers.
Another piece on May 24 detailed India’s G20 agenda with regards to gender and anti-corruption efforts. Authored by Radha Chauhan, secretary of the department of personnel and training, it featured in 41 newspapers. One by Mansukh Mandaviya on August 31, on digital health public goods, featured in 44 newspapers, including in West Bengal and Tripura.