Which came first – The egg or the chicken? Do you think a newspaper is in the business of news or is it a platform for advertisers to market their products and services while news is just a byproduct in creating that perfect platform?
A journalist will never agree that some publishers would like to believe that news is just a means to create that perfect “advertising delivery platform”.
On March 28, as many as six newspapers in Assam published advertisements released by the Bharatiya Janata Party on their frontpage – some call it a Skybus ad, for others it could just be explained as an eight-column advertisement below the masthead of a newspaper. The design of the ad was controversial to say the least.
The design and the message of the advertisement creative, was creative enough, for the BJP as they wanted to make maximum impact through the intelligently-crafted campaign. The advertisement – published in five Assamese newspapers and an English daily – carried ‘headlines’ that said: “BJP to win all constituencies of Upper Assam”.
While designers working with the editorial department in newspapers say that the advertising section should not use fonts used by the editorial, the difference blurs when we have limited options in Assamese fonts. But, that’s a topic for another blog.
The publications were slammed by the netizens throughout the Sunday for not adhering to the “ethics of journalism”. The fourth pillar getting easily sold-out was the catchphrase as a number of people were seen sharing their two cents on the subject.
The advertisements published on March 28 at least raises an eyebrow for a general reader. S/he may not take it as a news headline, but what if “a reader not as intelligent as I am” treats it as a news? This “I must think for such a reader” syndrome helped the advertisement go viral on the social media and created a ‘social storm’.
For the campaign managers at the BJP, they went on to achieve much more than what they expected: a multi-media 360-degree exposure.
For the publishers, apart from making some money – which won’t suffice one day’s cost of publication either – their journalists are now being called presstitutes (some even suggested using the real P-word).
On March 28, the Assam Congress submitted a memorandum to Assam Chief Electoral Officer (CEO) Nitin Khade against BJP and the six newspapers for publishing the misleading advertisement.
The memorandum said that the advertisement of the BJP on the party’s “performance in the first phase of election” was aimed at “influencing and deceiving the public/voters for the remaining two phases of election”.
“”The publication of the advertisement in the news report format is a violation of the Election Commission guidelines,” the Congress said.
A media report quoting an unnamed official at the CEO’s office in Guwahati said that the poll panel will examine the matter.
Phew! Elections are indeed full of rhetoric and less meat.