At a time when a raging controversy has broken out over the Press Council of India’s report on the Nitish Kumar government’s record on press freedom, information revealed under RTI on advertising budgets of two successive governments in Bihar shows that the Nitish Kumar government splurged on advertisements in the print and electronic media.
In 2010, the Information and Public Relations Department in response to an RTI filed by Afroz Alam Sahil an RTI activist and journalist, provided details on the advertising budgets of the Bihar government from 1999 to 2010.
In 2005, Nitish Kumar became the Chief Minister, succeeding RJD’s Rabri Devi who headed the government from 2000 to 2005.
As per information provided under the RTI, a copy of which is with Firstpost, the money spent on advertising in the print and electronic media by the Nitish Kumar government in its first four years was three times the amount spent by the previous government in five years. (See attachment)
Between 2000 and 2005, the Rabri Devi-led government spent Rs 23.4 crore on advertisements to the print media (there was no advertising budget for electronic media). But during the next four years, between 2006 (Kumar became CM in November 2005) and 2010 (up to January 10), the government’s advertising budget rose to a whopping Rs 62.6 crore, with the electronic media also being allotted government advertisements for the first time.
The annual media budget which hovered around Rs 4-5 crore between 1999 and 2006, almost doubled to Rs 9 crore in 2007, seeing a further three-time jump to Rs 25 crore in 2008.
“The figures from the Information and Public Relations Department suggest that the government’s attention has been more on advertisements and less on development. Clearly, the media has been the largest beneficiaries of the Nitish Kumar government. To report unfavourably is to risk losing governments ads,” said Sahil, who filed the RTI in 2010, two years after the new advertising policy was introduced.
After the Bihar Advertisement Policy 2008 was introduced, allocation of government advertisements became centralized in ‘Empowered Advertisement Committee’ which was given “the freedom to and the competency to delist any listed newspaper/periodical in the interest of the state or work, from the approved list".
Among the key recommendations of the now controversial Press Council of India (PCI) report is the review of Bihar’s advertisement policy and the constitution of an independent agency to release advertisements to news papers.
Describing the report as being ‘biased’ and ‘motivate’, an angry Kumar had defended his government’s advertising policy, maintaining that “no censorship has been imposed on the media in Bihar and the media is absolutely free to write whatever it desires".
The RTI document: