Conflict of interest in ‘Indian Express’ awards?

The Ramnath Goenka awards for excellence in journalism, instituted by The Indian Express, will be given out by the vice president of India, Hamid Ansari, on Monday, January 16. But the sponsorship of the awards has run into trouble, with a bunch activists and intellectuals raising questions of “conflict of interest”.

Below is their full press release.

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On January 10 and 11, 2012, half-page advertisements in the Indian Express (IE) newspaper (at least in Delhi edition) announced that the IE excellence in journalism awards would be given out on January 16, 2012 .

The advertisement also said that the main presenting sponsor is the Jaypee Group and among the four associate sponsors was Mahyco Monsanto.

One may recall that Indian Express has been on a campaign mode advocating big dams in general. It has been specifically campaigning against the movements like the Narmada Bachao Andolan. In March and April 2006, the paper specifically ran a campaign against NBA and also against the then Union minister Prof Saifuddin Soz.

In October 2010 the paper ran a campaign for large hydro projects in the north east India when the then environment minister Jairam Ramesh held an open public hearing on these projects in Guwahati and than wrote to the Prime Minister, raising concerns about so many hydro projects being taken up in NE India and the impacts thereof.

Now it is well known that the Jaypee group is India’s largest dam building contractor, largest private sector developer and plans to develop many more including in the North East India, which was the subject of Indian Express campaign in October 2010. Jaypee group is also the contractor for the largest of Narmada Dam, namely Sardar Sarovar Project.

The group is planning to develop the 2700 MW lower Siang and 500 MW Hirong hydropower projects in Arunachal Pradesh, for example. It may also not be irrelevant to mention here that the Jaypee group has pathetic records in terms of social, environmental and human rights issues in the projects it is involved in.

More recently, in January 2012, India’s market regulator SEBI fined Jaypee group Rs 6 million for illegal practice of insider trading . All these facts are very much relevant for any business group to sponsor awards for excellence in journalism, particularly when the awards are also for “ethics in reporting”.

The Indian Express campaign in October 2010 willy-nilly helped the Jaypee groups’ interests. And now Jaypee is sponsoring the IE Journalism award. Shall we call this conflict of interest or quid pro quo?

Should a media house accept such sponsorship from a group that has directly benefited from the campaign that was run by the media house? And when the business group has such abysmal reputation?

Earlier in January-February 2010, when Jairam Ramesh held a series of public hearings to get a cross section of views on Bt Brinjal, Indian Express had launched a campaign  against Jairam Ramesh and for GM crops. It is clear that the campaign hugely benefited GM crop companies and the biggest among them in the world (Monsanto) has an Indian arm Mahyco Monsanto, which is the biggest GM seed company of India.

Mahyco Monsanto now is one of the sponsors of the Indian Express excellence in journalism awards.

So the same set of questions that arise about relation between Jaypee group and IE also arise for Mahyco Monsanto: Is this conflict of interest or quid pro quo? Is this not intellectual corruption? Should not the lobbyist media groups like Indian Express keep away from getting sponsorships from the organisations that their lobbying helps?

This is particularly true if media group wants to retain any credibility to the effect that it is still speaking in public interest, which we assume they should be.

We would like to clarify that we are not raising any doubts about the genuineness, independence and excellence of the jury or those journalists who may get this award.

Prashant Bhushan, senior Supreme Court lawyer, Delhi
E.A.S. Sarma, former secretary, govt of India, Andhra Pradesh
Himanshu Thakkar, SANDRP, Delhi
Shripad Dharmadhikary, manthan adhyayan kendra, MP
Manshi Asher, him dhara, environment research and action collective, HP
Joy KJ, soppecom, Maharashtra
Dr Latha Anantha, river research centre, Kerala
Soumitra Ghosh, NESPON, West Bengal
Hemant Dhyani, Ganga ahvahan, Uttarakhand

This is not the first time media awards have run into trouble.

In November 2011, Mail Today reported that the chief justice of the Supreme Court of India, S.H. Kapadia, had declined to hand out the awards instituted by an unnamed media group.

Earlier last year, media awards instituted by the Press Club of Bombay ran into rough weather when one of the sponsors turned out to be the 2G scam afflicted company, DB Realty.

Hat tap: Mahesh Vijapurkar

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Also read: Ramanth Goenka: Courage of the 2 o’ clock kind

Prabhu Chawla: No one can destroy Ramnath Goenka‘s paper

How Arun Shourie became editor of The Indian Express

7 Comments

  1. Brahmanyan

    People have full faith in Indian Express group, which fought for just causes. Indeed no one can destroy Ramnath Goenka’s Paper. The selection is being done by a panel of experts, who have no relation to sponsors. Then where is the conflict of interest?

    1. Sam

      The selection is being done by a panel of experts … Then where is the conflict of interest?

      Nice try –
      The article was not implying that the sponsors were trying to manipulate the awards. It was pointing out how indian express campaigned for the sponsors cause, and now are being paid for it – the bribe being under the legal cover of ‘sponsorship’.

  2. Fact 1: We are lagging behind in per hectare productivity
    Fact 2: We will need to produce more per hectare
    Fact 3: Not just seed quality, it is a wholistic approach that is required spanning proper balanced fertilization, modern agronomical practices, irrigation, pest control etc
    Fact 4: Improvements in seeds are also needed
    Fact 5: GM technology is still under debate, with research still underway on its long term effects on pests’ resistance, crops etc

  3. Anuj Wankhede

    Without getting into the merits – or otherwise – of large dams or GM seeds, the moot point is that prima facie, there is a clear conflict of interest. Even I have due respect to the IE group and its illustrous promoters. Yet, that does not deviate from the moot point raised here.

  4. The article never insinuated that the panel of experts that selected the awardees had anything to do with the sponsors. The question is about the paper’s ethics in accepting sponsorship from the same companies who were indirectly benefited by its “social” campaigns. The case is similar to that of Kanimozhi and Dayanidhi Maran whose actions as MP and Telecom Minister had “coincidentally” helped certain companies who had later invested in their family firms.

    Ever since Shekhar Gupta accepted his “Padma” award his objectivity in taking on the government too has come into question. Journalists in India must emulate their British counterparts’ example in this regard. Journalists in that county, if ever, accept their knighthoods or other state honours only before signing off lest they be accused of quid pro quo.

    Ramnath Goenka escaped the plight of not just turning but spinning in his grave because mercifully he was cremated and not buried. The present Indian Express’ ethical values would have had him endlessly spinning in his grave. The northern branch of Ramnath Goenka’s feisty paper has unfortunately become an extension of the I&B Ministry living off UPA’s largesse.

    The southern branch the New Indian Express however must be complimented for being the torch bearer of Ramnath Goenka’s values in fighting venality and corruption in public life. For in the end the function of a free press is not publicising government policies for which it has the I&B Ministry, but to hold it to account for its actions of commission and omission. You must be complimented for fearlessly exposing the Indian Express’ chicanery.

    1. Sam

      To summarize Voxindica’s comments:
      * Sponsorship unethical.
      * Mr. Gupta got govt. award; conclusion – works for govt.
      * Ramnath Goenka supported my ideology; good guy.
      * “I like the southern Indian Express, so it is better.”

  5. Mahesh Vijapurkar

    If a newspaper decides who is ‘Best This’ and ‘Best That’, why not just say so in an edition dedicated to those awards instead of having the glam boys and glam girls trooping to the stage and giving them away at some other corporate’s cost? The same applies to the TV channels.

    There is a lot to emulate from the Time Magazine. Put the person on the cover, write about it and thus quietly enhance the worth of its own judgement.

    These circuses are avoidable.

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