As a last push to help the UPA wade through the elections, the Ministry of Information and Broadcasting employed the entire media machinery at its disposal, including Doordarshan (DD) and All India Radio (AIR), to tom-tom the government’s welfare and development initiatives.
Besides paying for direct advertising spots and advertorials aired on 18 DD channels and AIR, the ministry co-opted the entire production and news divisions of the two broadcast platforms to produce audio-visual dramas and serials and generate “success stories” and “discussion-based programmes” on the UPA’s various schemes and programmes.
“The exercise was set in motion in May ’13 but picked pace in August ’13, and the last push came in January ’14,” said a director general of one of the organisations under the ministry.
Sources in DD, AIR and Song and Drama Division said I&B Minister Manish Tewari spearheaded the exercise and convened nearly 15 meetings between August ’13 and February ’14 (some chaired by I&B secretaries) with director generals and additional director generals of PIB, DAVP, Films Division, NFDC, RNI, AIR, DD and even the CEO of Prasar Bharati to chart out the promotional strategy and follow up on it success.
“Executives were flown in from places like Nagpur and Bhubaneswar to attend these meetings in New Delhi. Nearly 10 DGs and 20 ADGs along with Prasar Bharati CEO and all secretaries of the I&B ministry were asked to attend these meetings,” said a DG who attended the meetings.
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By the end of February, all of AIR’s regional news units had aired 316 “stories” on the government’s flagship schemes like MGNREGA, minority and SC welfare, midday meal, Rajiv Gandhi Grameen Vidyutikaran Yojana and National Rural Health Mission among others. It also held 163 “discussion-based” programmes on Aadhar, Food Security Bill, National Skill Development and other such initiatives. AIR’s New Delhi headquarters broadcast 126 “success stories” and 34 discussions.
DD was more involved in the exercise. Besides running “success stories”, DD News also aired “explanatory packages” giving details of various government schemes, duly peppered with interviews of related union ministers. The so-called autonomous broadcaster also ran guest discussions with experts and political leaders on these subjects. “While shows etc, were produced in Delhi, reporters in other parts of the country were asked to file reports on the success of various government schemes,” said the director general.
According to sources, nine hours of live bulletins in English, 12 hours in Hindi and three hours in Urdu were dedicated to the “project” and around 100 hours of non-news programmes were generated and aired on various regional stations by the end of 2013 alone.
As part of the paid advertorial, 18 DD centres broadcast dramas and serials like ‘Poorva Suhani Aayi Re’ in which a spirited village girl, Poorva, makes her fellow villagers aware of the government’s various welfare schemes. The show, produced in association with the Song and Drama division, had 52 episodes commissioned and the production cost of each episode was Rs 6 lakh. “The production cost was borne by DD itself out of the grants given to it by the government,” said a senior executive involved with the production.
DD News deployed close to 600 stringers and part-time reporters in 184 districts across 18 states to conduct surveys on the response these shows generated among the target audience.
According to the I&B ministry, DD and AIR were paid Rs 45.67 crore for advertisements and advertorials run under the campaign. Those involved in generating content within DD and AIR, however, say that their output was worth a lot more.
Tewari, meanwhile, said that as per the Transactional Business Rules, the ministry was well within its remit to employ the services of offices attached to it. “The rules clearly say that the ministry can use the services of attached and subordinate offices, of which DD and AIR are a part, to publicise its policies and programmes,” he said.
He also said the exercise was part of the government’s flagship promotional Bharat Nirman campaign that was originally launched in 2007. “We issued advertisements and advertorials to all the media organisations along with DD and AIR. We also made available the success stories to everybody. While some publications and channels followed them up, some didn’t. DD and AIR followed up on the success stories of their own volition and there was no coercion, pressure or extraneous influence on them to do these news stories and discussions,” he said.