June 2, 2021

Mismanagement unearthed by Dainik Bhaskar

On the afternoon of April 10 this year, the editorial team of Divya Bhaskar from Ahmedabad met in the office to plan a version for the next day. One story caught the attention of the newspaper's Gujarati editor, Devendra Bhatnagar. CR Patil, president of the National People's Party, claimed that he would give Covid patients 5,000 injections of remdesivir for free. When journalists asked Chief Minister Vijay Rupani how party leaders had access to a large quantity of drugs that the public could not even buy on the black market, he asked them to ask Patil

Batnagar felt inexplicable that Patil bought such a large quantity of rare drugs, and Rupani seemed to know nothing about it. How can people get an answer if they don't get a reply from the chief minister? Bhaskar decided to reveal Patil's phone number so that people can ask her directly. Thus was born the now famous cover.

A few days later, the Bhopal edition of the newspaper also joined the action. "The government's statistics on the number of deaths are lies. These burning pyre tells the truth," the newspaper declared in the headline, along with a photo of a drone burning Bhadbhada Ghat, the city's largest crematorium. Cremation pyre. This is as difficult as the Indian media's improper handling of the Covid disaster by the authorities. As expected, this article received a lot of praise.

There has been no slack since then. As the second wave of pandemics continues to sweep through India, Baska stands out for his reporting, exposing the tragic reality on the ground and actively questioning the government's mismanagement of government.

"This is not the first time that Baska has written such a story. We have also reported on government misconduct before. We often expose government failures, whether in Madhya Pradesh or Gujarat," Bhatnagar said. "Now our focus is on Covid, and we are prioritizing Covid news. This may be why people have different views on our work, but Baska has been doing this kind of news work."

"Our chairman  Ramesh Aggarwal, used to say, 'look how it looks, write what you see.' "Today, in this pandemic, people are dying and the government is trying to suppress the truth. Readers want the truth to come out. If I hide the truth from our readers right now, I am betraying my profession. This is Who we are reasons for informing the public. We have no agenda, and we have no hostility or conflict with the government."

In this vein, Bhatnagar explained the decision to publish the Gujarat BJP president’s phone number. “When we asked the chief minister about the BJP chief stocking 5,000 remdesivir injections, he said he didn’t know about it and that we must ask Patil. When we did, Patil said he got the injections from some friends. We wanted to know the names of his friends. He replied that whoever needed the injection could take it and those who didn’t want it shouldn't. That’s why we thought that the people of Gujarat who had been struggling to find the injections should ask where he got the injections from. This is why we made his number our headline.”

A seasoned Bhaskar journalist, however, provided a less heroic explanation for the newspaper’s aggressive coverage. “Our managing director says Bhaskar must always stand with the public opinion. We aren’t reporting against the government but in favour of the public. It may be that Bhaskar never proactively writes against the government, but this is a matter of public interest now. Bhaskar first carried reports about cremation grounds getting filled up, and then national and international media picked up the story.”

Another Bhaskar story that drew a lot of attention was from Uttar Pradesh, about people burying their Covid dead on the banks of the Ganga. The paper sent 30 reporters to document the newly dug graves on the banks along a 1,140-km stretch of the holy river in 27 districts. The story was soon picked up by other media outlets, Indian and international.

Out of 30 reporters, one of them told Midage: "Before Phaphamau, the bodies were also buried under the Ganges River Bridge, but due to Covid, the number has grown exponentially. We went there and shared the photos in our office group. Our predecessors definitely have. done". It decided that such reports should be carried out. There are also reporters from other parts of the state, so reporters are dispatched to various locations. From Phanphamau, we went to the Shringarpur ghat in Allahabad. There are corpses in a kilometer-long area. When our photos and videos were released, people from other media organizations began to come to these places. "

"Bhaskar injected new enthusiasm into his digital team in Uttar Pradesh. Our newspaper is not published in Uttar Pradesh. This is an attempt to establish it through digital channels," said an anonymous reporter from Baskar, Uttar Pradesh. "Our national editor Om Gaur has been posted to UP, as well as Surat editor Vijay Chauhan, Dainik Bhaskar Star editor Yogesh Pande, and senior Punjab journalist Shyam Dwivedi. Dainik Jagran and Amar Ujala did not do any noteworthy work. On the contrary, Baska has extensive coverage of the current situation. This will help us to establish ourselves in UP. "

When asked what prompted his newspaper's aggressive reporting, Gaur said: "Bhaskar is always actively reporting. Some of our stories have gained more attention during the pandemic because it has become a political issue. Uttar Pradesh is under pressure, not to make such reports, so when Baska publishes such reports, they have received attention. 

So wasn’t Bhaskar pressured to give favorable coverage to the government? “See, there are many ways to pressure the media,” replied Gaur, who oversees the newspaper’s digital operations. “After we did the story about the administration burying dead bodies at the Ganga ghats, I received a call from a government representative. He said a retired bureaucrat, SP Singh, had tweeted our story and if it wasn’t ours they would file a case against him. I replied that if they had to file a case, they should file it against me because Bhaskar published the report. I also told him to check our report, it had all the data and evidence.”

Vijay Singh Chauhan, who works with Bhaskar in UP, stressed this point, “Our coverage is centred on issues relevant to the public. Today, people are dying due to Covid, there’s no oxygen available, deaths are being covered up. We are covering that,” he said.

Another Bhaskar journalist in UP who asked not to be named said, “In Uttar Pradesh, pick up any newspaper and you would think the government has published it. That is why Bhaskar's reporting stands out."

Dainik Bhaskar journalist in Bhopal said, “Our coverage is sharper now than last year. That’s because the government has completely failed and it is necessary to write about it. It was Dainik Bhaskar that first reported about deaths due to the lack of oxygen in Bhopal. After the story was published, the government pressured us to withdraw it but we didn’t as it was grounded in facts. Similarly, when Bhaskar reported on the government shutting down testing labs, there was pressure to refute it, but we did not. We publish reports after checking them thoroughly.”

In Rajasthan, the paper’s coverage stood out “because corona is a global problem but other media outlets are not reporting on it aggressively like us”, said its state editor Mukesh Mathur. “We are reporting openly, be it a BJP state or a Congress one. Today, leftwing media and rightwing media are a thing but we don’t have any such association. We question those who are in power, not the opposition.”

He added, “In Rajasthan, we sent our reporters to cremation grounds and graveyards across 25 districts and showed that the state government was trying to hide the true number of deaths.”

The paper’s editors may claim that it has long stood with the public against the government, but that has not always been the case. Indeed, until its recent reporting on the pandemic, Bhaskar wasn’t known for openly criticising the establishment. A look at its coverage of the first wave of the pandemic in April-May 2020 makes this clear. The newspaper’s Delhi edition, which we looked at, lacked the speed and aggression in reportage that it’s showing now. Its editorials weren’t nearly as piercing as they are now either, even when discussing similar subjects. Overall, its coverage of the pandemic was not much different than in any other Hindi newspaper.

So, what changed?

One of the reasons for Bhaskar's aggressive stance is that in the past six months, the number of advertisements they received has dropped significantly. There are two types of advertisements, one is information about government bidding, and the other is information and advertising. The bidding announcements sent to Bhaskar have been significantly reduced, and display advertisements are rarely seen," said a former public relations official in Madhya Pradesh. Now they have received some display advertisements, but no bidding announcements yet. "

An in-service public relations official declined to speak formally, but requested anonymity and said: "Your advertising has decreased in the past six months, but it has not stopped completely. In any case, given the Covid situation, display advertising will decrease, but yes, Their bidding advertisements have dropped by 90%. This is a decision of the upper level, not at our level. Previously, the newspaper received advertisements worth about Rs 5 million per month."

The official wouldn’t explain why the ads have been reduced. A senior Bhaskar executive admitted that they have received fewer ads since December last year but he too didn’t explain why.

However, the executive denied that the newspaper's report was motivated by commercial interests. "We are not under pressure from any government. If you read our report, you will find that we are not targeting any individual or political party. Bhaskar from Gujarat, Rajasthan, Madhya Pradesh, Chhattisgarh, Jharkhand Report. We do not care if it is a BJP state or a not BJP status ".

As for why journalistic reports during the second wave of the epidemic were more radical than those of the first wave, the executive said: "What happened this time has never happened. It was not like that last year. How can we report so radically? "

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