The national media has presented Nitish Kumar, Chief Minister of Bihar as 'Vikas Purush' (man of development), but some say that the rosy picture presented by the media about 'development' of the state is a judiciously managed one.
If one goes by the information provided by the Public Relations Officer of the state department of Information and Public Relations, the Bihar CM has managed state as well as national media, in such a way that they cannot afford to present him in a negative manner. For this purpose he has put the government's advertising budget to good use.
This fact has come out in reply to an RTI query filed by Afroz Alam Sahil, an RTI activist and Mass Communication student of Jamia Millia Islamia New Delhi. The Hoot has seen that RTI reply from the state Information and Public Relation department.
According to the reply, soon after coming into power, the Nitish Kumar government increased the quantum of advertisement to media by four times to what it was in the previous governments.
In just the last four years of Nitish regime, from 2005-09 till February 28, 2010, the state government gave advertisement for around 38,000 odd works and spent Rs 64.48 crore on them whereas in the period of six years the Lalu-Rabri government had spent around just Rs 23.9 crore.
As per the RTI document, in 2008-09 alone the state government spent around Rs 25.25 crore on advertisement of both print and electronic media.
The manifold increase in the annual spending by the state government on advertisement is worth noting.
In 2005-06 (Nitish Kumar came in power in November 2005) the state spending on advertisements was around Rs 4.49 crore. With an increase of around Rs 90 lakh, that expenditure in 2006-07 was Rs 5.4 crore. In 2007-08, there was an increase of Rs 4.25 crore, which brought the expenses to Rs 9.65 crore. And finally, in 2008-09 this yearly increase went up to Rs 15.59 crore, bringing the annual spending on advertisements to Rs 25.25 crore.
In 2009-10 till February 28, 2010, around Rs 19.66 crore has been spent on advertisements.
On November 24, 2009, on the eve of completion of four years of Nitish government, in a single day advertisements worth Rs 1.15 crore were given in 24 different national as well as regional dailies.
These advertisements highlight the so called developmental works of the state government in the areas of health, minority development, education and socio-economic development, with the titles like "Badalta Bihar" (changing Bihar) "Nitish Kumar Ke Chaar Saal" (four years of Nitish Kumar).
Delhi and Patna based Hindi dailies such as Hindustan, Dainik Jagran, Prabhat Khabar and Aj had the lion's share of around Rs 72.5 lakh.
Afroz Alam said 'the countrywide fame of Nitish has less to do with his work on the ground and more to do with positive coverage that newspapers across the country gave him in lieu of the advertisements''
On the eve of completion of four years of Nitish government the Hindi daily Hindustan had received advertisement worth Rs 37 lakh from Bihar government, the maximum among all the media organizations. Soon after this advertisement, on December 31, 2009 it conducted an SMS survey about national heroes of India. Nitish Kumar was voted the most prominent of the heroes with 40.64 % of the votes, leaving behind even Rahul Gandhi who got just 33% of the votes.
The RTI activist pointed out 'from the above mentioned data it is quite evident that media did good business in Nitish's regime.'
'In spite of taking such a substantial amount of advertising from Nitish government the media organizations never talked about that, this itself proves that they don't want to expose the truth behind much publicized 'development' of Bihar. Because then they will lose advertisements worth millions', he said.
He drew our attention towards the state advertisement policy-2008. 'The state government has made it clear that if at all the work of any media organization is against the interests of the state (euphemism for Nitish regime) then that organization will not be given advertisements; and worst the state government can eliminate that organization from the list of media organizations which will be given advertisements', he said.
The state Advertisement Policy-2008 says that 'the Empowered Advertisement Committee keeping in mind the requirement, practicality and the state interests may recommend such newspapers'The Committee shall have the freedom and the competency to delist any listed newspaper /periodical in the interest of the state or work from the approved list.'
Quoting a senior TOI Patna correspondent, who does not want to be named, Afroz Alam pointed out 'the day Times of India started reporting about the state government's utter failure in meeting the challenges posed by the Kosi flood (2008), the government started withdrawing advertisements from the English daily. So finally TOI had to switch back to 'normal' reporting'.
Mr. Alam said that when he got to know about the huge state expenditure on advertisements, he contacted media organizations like Hindustan, Nai Dunia and Rashtriya Sahara. Everywhere the editors welcomed him saying that it is a very big story and a front page story. But despite contacting these editors for weeks to get the story published, his efforts went in vain.
The RTI activist pointed out that 'the effect of these advertisements on media coverage is that if you happen to be anti-Nitish, you will really be lucky if your views or demonstration is covered by the media.'
He said that it is quite evident that the state government is more focused on creating a positive image in people's perception with the help of media than doing things on ground.
This is the 'Bihar Shining' campaign as opposed to the 'India Shining' campaign in which BJP-led NDA government spent Rs 88.89 crore. But in a country where the ultimate power lies in the hands of the jan janardhan (general public) it will be interesting to see how much the 'Bihar Shining' campaign achieves in the coming assembly election.