Uttar Pradesh - Media: Sold To The Satan!

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The best known scribes in India’s largest state have willfully sold their souls to politicians and their own managements to bag huge largesse in terms of advertisements and palatial accommodation

SRAWAN SHUKLA

SRAWAN SHUKLA

The author is a Lucknow-based independent journalist with over 25 years experience in media - print, television and digital. He started his career with the Pioneer, working later with The Times of India, Newstime, Hyderabad and Tehelka. He also worked with Zee News and ETV (UP). He was Editor (U.P.) of bhaskar.com and later founded Newstrack.com.

There has been an implosion in trust and credibility of media in the last two decades in Uttar Pradesh. Today, media has become a tool in the hands of the government, influential people, mighty bureaucrats and anyone ready to pay the price for paid news or biased report for even a small favour.

Unlike his predecessor Akhilesh Yadav, who squandered a prince’s ransom mollycoddling the media, the incumbent Chief Minister Yogi Adityanath has tightened the noose around media after the former Information and Broadcasting Minister Vekaiah Naidu launched a tirade against journalists running fake and fraudulent newspapers to pocket government advertisements.

Over 3,000 small and medium newspapers, enjoying Directorate of Advertising and Publicity (DAVP) rate approvals, suddenly faced closure in the state. A majority of them had manipulated and inflated their circulation figures beyond anyone’s imagination. In reality, they were actually publishing only a few file copies to pocket huge money from government ads. Imposition of GST on printing further exposed their nexus with the babus of State Information Department and printers.Many small-time journalists who had suddenly become big shots roaming in swanky cars and buying properties were rendered jobless after Centre’s new DAVP policy and GST on printing. Only a handful among them could survive this new blitzkrieg.

“Those who were manipulating to splurge on government ads paid the price but those who were following the rule book and doing journalism with honesty despite pressure from the government as well as peer groups survived the Centre’s onslaught. For small people like us, the road ahead is bumpy and difficult but I am happy that the new rules have started cleansing the media world, though there is a lurking fear of the industry going into the hands of corporate and big industrial houses,” pointed RK Gautam, Managing Editor, Divya Sandesh, a weekly newspaper.

Largesse Legacy

Like his father Mulayam Singh Yadav, Akhilesh Yadav was too magnanimous in doling out ads and monetary favours to journalists and media houses during his regime. But a Supreme Court order directing the state government to getting palatial bungalows of six former Chief Ministers, including his father, vacated rattled Akhilesh.

The former Chief Minister was forced to amend the Uttar Pradesh Ministers (Salaries, Allowances and Miscellaneous Provisions) Act, 1981, to dodge the apex court judgment in order to continue with allotment of such bungalows to former Chief Ministers, including his father Mulayam Singh Yadav.

The amendments were also necessitated since Akhilesh had got a palatial bungalow at 4 Vikramaditya Marg, next to his father’s, allotted for himself, for being the Chairman of the Janeshwar Mishra Trust. Over Rs 25 crore was allegedly spent on the renovation of the new bungalow where Akhilesh is currently staying with his wife Dimple Yadav and children. The allotment was done secretly and in advance, since Akhilesh had come to know that his chance of returning to power was bleak after the 2017 Assembly polls. To ensure that media did not take a dig at his move, Akhilesh shot off notices to journalists forcibly occupying government accommodations in the wake of the Supreme Court order and amendments into the existing Act of 1981. Since elections were round the corner, a new legislation, Allotment of Houses Under Control of the Estate Department Act, 2016, was passed to keep journalists and other allottees on tenterhooks.

Allotment Politics

Rule 8 (2) of the new Act states: “Barring members of the state legislature, all applicants seeking government accommodation will have to file an affidavit stating that they have not been allotted any land / house by the Lucknow Development Authority / UP Awas Vikas Parishad and they do not own any house / land in their name, in the name of wife or any other family member.” The new Rules also make it mandatory that government accommodations to journalists and others will be allotted only for a period of 12 months and they will be renewed only after they complete the renewal formalities by giving a fresh affidavit.

Under the new Act, categories were also made to allot government accommodations as per the profile and stature of the applicant. Journalists were restricted to be allotted up to Type 4 houses, while Type 5, 6 and above were reserved for judges and bureaucrats and police officials as per their seniority.

This caused a flutter in the journalist circles, as over a dozen influential journalists had got themselves allotted Type 5 and above houses in the posh Butler Palace and other colonies owned by the Estate department.

Already served a notice, they feared cancellation of their allotment under the new rules. A journalist close to Mulayam used his influence to pressurise Akhilesh to amend the Act. Over Rs 24 lakh were spent on renovation of his house at Butler Palace after it was allotted to him on Mulayam’s phone call. The Act of 2016 was amended in favour of these influential journos and they were allowed to be allotted Type 5 category of government accommodations also.

Rogues Gallery

When Yogi Adityanath took over as the Chief Minister, he started where Akhilesh had left. He ordered the Estate Department to go strictly by the new rules and get journalists forcibly occupying those government accommodations evicted.

At present, about 282 journalists in Lucknow are staying in government houses. As per the Estate department, about 97 journalists are staying ‘illegally’ in government accommodations. The department claims that a majority are those who have given ‘fake affidavits’ to continue enjoying the government largesse.

“If the department goes by the rule book, then 90 per cent of journalists are staying in government accommodations illegally, since many of them were allotted house / land in various government schemes for journalists or by LDA and Awas Vikas Parishad. When the department verified, it found that many of them also have their own houses and properties in Lucknow,” confided a senior officer of the Estate department.

A list provided by the department Deputy Director Dr Alka Pandey corroborated this fact.

• The President of the Indian Federation of Working Journalists (IFWJ) K Vikram Rao is occupying two government accommodations, despite having houses and properties in his own name and his wife’s.

• Hemant Tiwari, the self-styled President of the fractured UP Accredited Journalists’ Association, and also Vice-President of IFWJ, is illegally occupying government Type 5 house at B-7 Butler Palace, despite owning a subsidised plot at Viraaj Khand scheme and other properties. Manipulating transfers and lucrative postings for officials, Tiwari is known as the biggest fixer in power corridors of UP.

• Senior Resident Editor of Hindustan Times, Lucknow edition, Sunita Aron is staying in a palatial government accommodation at B-3, Dilkusha Garden, for a very long period, despite being a beneficiary of subsidised government scheme. She owns a farm house and sold a plot allotted by the LDA in the posh Gomtinagar recently at close to Rs 1 crore. As per the Estate department list, she is living in the government accommodation at Dilkusha Garden illegally.

• Retired from BBC, senior journalist Ram Dutt Tripathi is occupying a government house at 55 Gulistan Colony illegally. He had made his government accommodation as the BBC’s local office by constructing two additional rooms. Tripathi owns a subsidised house at Patrakarpuram in Gomtinagar. Interestingly, he has rented out his subsidised house to Andhra Bank and enjoying the government accommodation against the rules.

• Senior journalist Sharat Pradhan is held in great respect in the power corridors in UttarPradesh. Often he is found in TV channels speaking against corruption. But not many know that he got many plots allotted by the LDA and other agencies and sold them out to pocket profit. He is also a beneficiary of government subsidised scheme. The Income Tax department had slapped a notice on Pradhan for including rental income from a foreign news agency by showing his government house at B-4 Gulistan Colony as its office. The Estate department list claims that he is an illegal occupant of B-4 Gulistan Colony.

• Senior journalist and former Commissioner Information, Gyanendra Sharma owns subsidized house 3/78 Patrakarpuram but continues to enjoy government accommodation at 23 Gulistan Colony. Mohd Nadeem is Political Editor Hindustan, Delhi but still occupying government house 5/4 at Daaibagh Colony.

The list of illegal occupants is endless. Times of India Political Editor Subhash Mishra (35, Gulistan Colony), ETV Political Editor Manmohan Rai (6, Guilstan Colony), Journalist and Union activist Mudit Mathur (1/4 Daalibagh Colony), Hindustan senior journalist Golesh Swami (102 La Place), UP Press Club office-bearer Jokhu Prasad Tiwari (ED-27 Talkatora), Ghanshyam Dubey (26, Gulistan Colony), Vijay Shanker Pankaj (B-54, Indiranagar), Bhaskar Dubey (1, Buter Palace) are a few to quote from the Estate department list.

Changing Systems

The Estate Officer Yogesh Kumar Shukla said that to bring in transparency in allotment of government accommodations, the department has already made every process online. “We are verifying affidavits submitted by journalists to ascertain if they own any house/land/property in their name or in the name of wives or family members. The government would not only cancel their allotments but initiate legal action if their affidavits were found to be false,” warned Shukla. Corruption in Uttar Pradesh media is not new. The only difference is that earlier, journalists did take small favours but never sold their mighty pen. But today, they are ready to sell their writings for a price for owners of media houses, and for personal gains.

Award Fault

“The denigration of media began soon after Palekar Award. Contract system was brought in, causing insecurity among journalists. They became subservient and amenable to the requirements of owners of media houses. Editorial independence and freedom was a casualty,” pointed senior journalist JP Shukla, former President, UP Accredited Journalists’ Association.

Shukla said that when commercialisation of the media industry began, and newspapers became ‘products’, journalists also shelved their ethics and passion and resorted to corrupt practices, which they were in any case forced to do for the benefits of the managements.

Established newspapers forced their reporters to bring in ads and get 10 per cent in commission. Newspapers like Times of India re-designated their editors as Editor (Market). “A few influential journalists became media mafia. Fake reports, paid news, false propaganda and blackmailing made media lose its credibility completely in Uttar Pradesh,” stated Shukla.

Greasing Palms

The corruption and cash rewards reached a new height when Mulayam Singh Yadav headed the SP-BSP government in 1993. Mulayam used carrot and stick policy to tame media. Those dancing to his tunes were doled out huge sums from discretionary funds, allotted subsidised lands and given other favours and he launched the ‘halla bol’ against those who refused to buckle under his pressure.

The then Information Director Atul Bagai used to decide which news will go on which page and which needs to be dropped in almost all major newspapers. Journalists had become puppets in the hands of the then Mulayam government.

But when BSP withdrew support and Mayawati became Chief Minister with BJP’s support in 1995, she exposed Mulayam’s largesse by tabling list of discretionary fund and its beneficiaries.

Many a journalist was exposed. One journalist, who is now a consulting editor in a TV channel owned by top industrialist Mukesh Ambani, had pocketed Rs 13 lakhs from discretionary fund during the Mulayam regime. Another had taken a paltry sum of Rs 5,000 for the cremation of his father.

A resident editor of a prominent English daily was allotted plot out of turn by carving out a park and huge cash. Editor of an Urdu daily was given Rs 45 lakh as ‘advance’ for publishing government ads, whereas going by rules, payments for printing any advertisement is made only within 90 days.

National Shame

The scribes scam in Uttar Pradesh echoed in nationwide protests, and the Press Council of India (PCI) had conducted a countrywide inquiry. Code of Ethics was re-written by the PCI and almost by all major national newspapers. But it failed to check corruption in the media industry and exploitation of honest journos in the biggest state of the country. A state correspondent of a national English daily, owned by a big media house, was recently sacked by the management, along with a desk person, for improper and incorrect coverage of BJP National President Amit Shah’s press conference in Lucknow.

Today journalists and media industry are at crossroads. Those belonging to old school of journalism sulk under the ‘undue pressure’ of the management and those who adjusted to the changing world became more practical made huge money to launch their own channels, newspapers and web portals.

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