While genuine news portals continue to suffer due to lack of resources, the BJP-led government of Madhya Pradesh has been splashing crores of rupees through government advertisement on dodgy websites run by journalists and their relatives in the state.
A report in Indian Express has said that the Shivraj Singh Chouhan government doled out at least Rs 14 crore in the form of advertisements over four years to 234 websites.
The websites that received advertisements — worth amounts ranging from Rs 10,000 to Rs 21.7 lakh — have been identified in a list prepared by the government for 2012-15 in response to a question in the state Assembly by Congress MLA Bala Bachchan.
Here are the detail of these websites, most of which don’t even carry news or have stopped updating the website for last three years but continue to benefit from the government’s generosity. One such website identified Manmohan Singh as Prime Minister, and news items on its home page are from 10 November, 2013.
- At least 26 websites got advertisements worth Rs 10 lakh or more, of which at least 18 are run by journalists or relatives of journalists.
- At least 81 websites, many of them run by relatives of journalists, got advertisements worth Rs 5-10 lakh.
- At least 33 of these websites are being run from government-allotted accommodation in Bhopal.
- Many of these websites, such as http://www.failaan.com (Rs 18.70 lakh), http://www.deshbhakti. com (Rs 8.75 lakh), http://www.rashtrawad.com (Rs 8.25 lakh), http://www.citychowk.com (Rs 11.90 lakh) and http://www.prakalp.org (Rs 10.60 lakh), are listed under different names but were carrying the same content when The Indian Express first started to contact them for reactions on 19 April. The listed addresses of http://www.failaan.com (Prakhar Agnihotri) and http://www.indiannews&view.com (Rs. 8.75 lakh, Rajesh Agnihotri) are the same.
Anupam Rajan, commissioner for public relations, Madhya Pradesh, told the paper, “Web sites are the new news media. Money was given to popularise this new medium, no matter who runs those sites. We have now revised the policy of giving advertisements to web sites. Before giving any money, we check whether they are actually working or not. Besides, we give advertisements now only after getting reports of the number of hits on the site. We cannot do anything if any of these web sites shut down after getting advertisements.”
One website — http://www.mpnewsonline.com — is run by a school teacher Mini Sharma, who is the wife of Gireesh Sharma, resident editor in Bhopal of The Pioneer.
The web site, which contains no contact details, got Rs 17 lakh from the government in the form of advertisements from 2012 to 2015. Defending his wife’s association with the web site, Sharma said, “It may be unethical but there is nothing illegal in it.”
However, the web site that got the maximum of Rs 21.70 lakh in advertisements from the state is listed under the name of Ashwini Rai, who said he works with the BJP. “I am not associated with the web site. I work for the BJP. Somebody else runs the web site,” Rai said.