Reading news with a notebook computer in front has become a regular feature on Indian television. But look closely at this montage of images from New Delhi Television (NDTV), and you will find the logo of Lenovo, the Chinese company that bought over IBM’s laptop business, prominently showing up on screen.
The logo appears on all three channels in the NDTV stable: the English news channel ’24×7′, the business channel ‘Profit’, and the Hindi channel ‘India’. Sometimes it is on the left of the screen, sometimes on the right, sometimes bang in the middle. And it appears whether one person is reading the news or two; morning, afternoon or night.
Of course, it is possible that all the notebook computers supplied to NDTV come with these giant-sized logos, which appear to be stickers, but it is unlikely. For one thing, Lenovo laptops available in the marketplace do not have such logos. And, for another, if you peer at the images, you will also find a smaller metallic logo above the big sticker one. So, clearly, the big logo is meant to be there.
Which can mean only one of three things. Either NDTV’s producers haven’t noticed that they are giving free publicity to a corporate (unlikely). Or NDTV acquired a truckload of computers at a mammoth discount from Lenovo in exchange for on-air publicity (possible but unlikely).
Or, most likely and dangerously, this is a “product placement” for Lenovo.
In other words, editorial airtime is being used by NDTV to subconsciously push a product without the viewer knowing that this is actually an advertisment for the company making it. In a strange sort of way, “The Wall” between Church and State seems to have been breached in an organisation high on political correctness and editorial standards.
What is wrong, you might ask, NDTV is free to do whatever it wants. Answer: plenty.
For starters, this is as bad as The Times of India group selling editorial space in the news columns of its publications to advertisers. The distinction between news and advertisement collapses, and the reader/viewer has no idea what is paid for and what isn’t.
Since ToI isn’t inflight reading even in the “business” section of NDTV, surely sauce for the goose….
More importantly, in a largely illiterate nation where images play a big role in moulding minds and shaping opinion, the media have a bounden duty to ensure that what the reader/ listener/ viewer receives comes to him unfettered, without any strings attached. Not pushed through surreptitiously in a manner which could compromise the editorial freedom and independence of the newsroom.
What, for instance, is the likelihood that labour malpractices or disposal of e-waste by Lenovo at its Chinese factory, or under invoicing of imports, will be allowed to be probed deeply NDTV reporters or reported fairly on air if there is an advertising deal stitched in in so obvious a manner?
Thankfully, it’s only Lenovo today. But what will they sell next without the viewer knowing?
Instead of treating viewers as citizens whom it ought to inform, entertain and empower, NDTV seems to have embarked on the same sorry path of those it decries by treating viewers as consumers.
For a listed company that isn’t short of cash, that is a big price to pay for a very small saving/accrual to its bottomline. And for a brand leader, it is a sorry example to set for the rest of the crowd.
Also read: Selling editorial space: changing times
Blurring the dividing line
Newspaper empires at war
The Times of India‘s final frontier