Thursday, 31 May 2012

Comment is free, but facts are sacred

For the young journalists who are not sure about the source of 'Comment is free, but facts are sacred,' the ultimate statement of values for a free press. Here is the essay C P Scott wrote in 1921 to celebrate the centenary of the Guardian and his 50th anniversary as editor.

A hundred years is a long time; it is a long time even in the life of a newspaper, and to look back on it is to take in not only a vast development in the thing itself, but a great slice in the life of the nation, in the progress and adjustment of the world. In the general development the newspaper, as an institution, has played its part, and no small part, and the particular newspaper with which I personally am concerned has also played its part, it is to be hoped, not without some usefulness. I have had my share in it for a little more than 50 years; I have been its responsible editor for only a few months short of its last half-century; I remember vividly its 50th birthday; I now have the happiness to share in the celebration of its 100th. I can therefore speak of it with a certain intimacy of acquaintance. I have myself been part of it and entered into its inner courts. That is perhaps a reason why, on this occasion, I should write in my own name, as in some sort a spectator, rather than in the name of the paper as a member of its working staff.
In all living things there must be a certain unity, a principle of vitality and growth. It is so with a newspaper, and the more complete and clear this unity the more vigorous and fruitful the growth. I ask myself what the paper stood for when first I knew it, what it has stood for since and stands for now. A newspaper has two sides to it. It is a business, like any other, and has to pay in the material sense in order to live. But it is much more than a business; it is an institution; it reflects and it influences the life of a whole community; it may affect even wider destinies. It is, in its way, an instrument of government. It plays on the minds and consciences of men. It may educate, stimulate, assist, or it may do the opposite. It has, therefore, a moral as well as a material existence, and its character and influence are in the main determined by the balance of these two forces. It may make profit or power its first object, or it may conceive itself as fulfilling a higher and more exacting function.
I think I may honestly say that, from the day of its foundation, there has not been much doubt as to which way the balance tipped as far as regards the conduct of the paper whose fine tradition I inherited and which I have had the honour to serve through all my working life. Had it not been so, personally, I could not have served it. Character is a subtle affair, and has many shades and sides to it. It is not a thing to be much talked about, but rather to be felt. It is the slow deposit of past actions and ideals. It is for each man his most precious possession, and so it is for that latest growth of time, the newspaper. Fundamentally it implies honesty, cleanness, courage, fairness, a sense of duty to the reader and the community. A newspaper is of necessity something of a monopoly, and its first duty is to shun the temptations of monopoly. Its primary office is the gathering of news. At the peril of its soul it must see that the supply is not tainted. Neither in what it gives, nor in what it does not give, nor in the mode of presentation must the unclouded face of truth suffer wrong. Comment is free, but facts are sacred. "Propaganda", so called, by this means is hateful. The voice of opponents no less than that of friends has a right to be heard. Comment also is justly subject to a self-imposed restraint. It is well to be frank; it is even better to be fair. This is an ideal. Achievement in such matters is hardly given to man. We can but try, ask pardon for shortcomings, and there leave the matter.
But, granted a sufficiency of grace, to what further conquests may we look, what purpose serve, what task envisage? It is a large question, and cannot be fully answered. We are faced with a new and enormous power and a growing one. Whither is the young giant tending? What gifts does he bring? How will he exercise his privilege and powers? What influence will he exercise on the minds of men and on our public life? It cannot be pretended that an assured and entirely satisfactory answer can be given to such questions. Experience is in some respects disquieting. The development has not been all in the direction which we should most desire. One of the virtues, perhaps almost the chief virtue, of a newspaper is its independence. Whatever its position or character, at least it should have a soul of its own. But the tendency of newspapers, as of other businesses, in these days is towards amalgamation. In proportion, as the function of a newspaper has developed and its organisation expanded, so have its costs increased. The smaller newspapers have had a hard struggle; many of them have disappeared. In their place we have great organisations controlling a whole series of publications of various kinds and even of differing or opposing politics. The process may be inevitable, but clearly there are drawbacks. As organisation grows personality may tend to disappear. It is much to control one newspaper well; it is perhaps beyond the reach of any man, or any body of men, to control half a dozen with equal success. It is possible to exaggerate the danger, for the public is not undiscerning. It recognises the authentic voices of conscience and conviction when it finds them, and it has a shrewd intuition of what to accept and what to discount.
This is a matter which in the end must settle itself, and those who cherish the older ideal of a newspaper need not be dismayed. They have only to make their papers good enough in order to win, as well as to merit, success, and the resources of a newspaper are not wholly measured in pounds, shillings, and pence. Of course the thing can only be done by competence all round, and by that spirit of co-operation right through the working staff which only a common ideal can inspire.
There are people who think you can run a newspaper about as easily as you can poke a fire, and that knowledge, training, and aptitude are superfluous endowments. There have even been experiments on this assumption, and they have not met with success. There must be competence, to start with, on the business side, just as there must be in any large undertaking, but it is a mistake to suppose that the business side of a paper should dominate, as sometimes happens, not without distressing consequences. A newspaper, to be of value, should be a unity, and every part of it should equally understand and respond to the purposes and ideals which animate it. Between its two sides there should be a happy marriage, and editor and business manager should march hand in hand, the first, be it well understood, just an inch or two in advance. Of the staff, much the same thing may be said. They should be a friendly company. They need not, of course, agree on every point, but they should share in the general purpose and inheritance. A paper is built up upon their common and successive labours, and their work should never be task work, never merely dictated. They should be like a racing boat's crew, pulling well together, each man doing his best because he likes it, and with a common and glorious goal.
That is the path of self-respect and pleasure; it is also the path of success. And what a work it is! How multiform, how responsive to every need and every incident of life! What illimitable possibilities of achievement and of excellence! People talk of "journalese" as though a journalist were of necessity a pretentious and sloppy writer; he may be, on the contrary, and very often is, one of the best in the world. At least he should not be content to be much less. And then the developments. Every year, almost every day, may see growth and fresh accomplishments, and with a paper that is really alive, it not only may, but does. Let anyone take a file of this paper, or for that matter any one of half a dozen other papers, and compare its whole make-up and leading features today with what they were five years ago, 10 years ago, 20 years ago, and he will realise how large has been the growth, how considerable the achievement. And this is what makes the work of a newspaper worthy and interesting. It has so many sides, it touches life at so many points, at every one there is such possibility on improvement and excellence. To the man, whatever his place on the paper, whether on the editorial or business, or even what may be regarded as the mechanical side - this also vitally important in its place - nothing should satisfy short of the best, and the best must always seem a little ahead of the actual. It is here that ability counts and that character counts, and it is on these that a newspaper, like every great undertaking, if it is to be worthy of its power and duty, must rely.

Saturday, 26 May 2012

Creative Media Course in Bangalore

Prof K. Murali Mohan Kati has notified the following:

Baduku Community College, Bangalore, has announced a course in CREATIVE MEDIA.  The course is a 6 months Certificate course. 
The course is committed to developing young people from disadvantaged, underprivileged and underdeveloped regions into influencing the profession of journalism and media work through peace and development reporting. Peace and development reporting uses media work to empower poorer, excluded, regions and communities to tell their stories, to enhance and enjoy the rights to information, basic opportunities and facilities for human development, clean governance and democracy, ecological sustainability and conflict free environment. Investigative journalistic projects for peace and development use and produce print, radio and visual materials to enquire into the above aspects for social responsibility and public interest. I am happy to attach for you the brochure of the course.

The Course participation selection has been committed to diversity and has given priority to students from underprivileged regions of Karnataka, and underprivileged socio-economic and gender backgrounds, with an objective to develop both perspectives and skills for socially relevant journalism and media work. 

Using a multidisciplinary and multimedia approach the course has sought to provide perspectives in the areas of critical thinking, democracy, human  development, moving image, technology, sustainability, media laws, environmental and social justice,research, investigative reporting. It has also provided intensive skill training in  visual media and basic skills in writing. 

Wednesday, 23 May 2012

Admission to Communication Studies, University of Pune

Following received from Vishram Dhole:

Department of Communication Studies, University of Pune conducts a two-year full time course called 'M.Sc in Communication Studies' with specialization in Video Production and Media Research. The course offers various career opportunities in the field of mass media and communication. Entrance examination of the course is scheduled on 7-9 June 2012. Click here for online application process  :

Sunday, 20 May 2012 launched

Dr. Nandini Lakshmikanth, Head of the Journalism Department at the Manipal University Bangalore Campus, has proudly announced the launch a website put by her students. Let us compliment the students for the initiative.

Shravan Regret Iyer, one of the editors of the website, has the following details: 

“We regret our inability to publish….This is one of those standard sentences that one receives upon contributing to the media. Sadly, many Journalism students often cringe at such repeated rejection or quit the profession in disgust. The need to provide a platform for all the journalism students to share their works is vital. is one such platform that allows the budding journalists to share their works. This website was launched by renowned literary critic and writer L S Sheshagiri  Rao; Kannada writer, researcher and historian Dr M Chidananda Murthy, and chairman of the Karnataka Janapada Academy (KJA), Mr. Channabasappa along with Manipal University Bangalore Campus director, Dr. Thammaiah Chekkera in Press Club Bangalore on May 15, 2012.

About The Students’ Post:

As students of journalism, we (Shravan Regret Iyer, Tajinder Pal Singh Walia and Pranav Kohli) wanted to create something that would help and encourage budding journalists and give them exposure at the same time; something that would be ‘of the students, by the students, for the students’.

The Students’ Post (TSP) started about 2 and half months ago, on 28 February to be precise (That was the day we registered the domain for the website.)

Through The Students’ Post, we focus on issues pertaining to consumerism, commodification and corruption and also organise intelligent debates on them. Issues like Nuclear Energy, Gender Inequality, Female Foeticide and Infanticide, Child Sexual Abuse, Closet Racism, Farmer Suicides, Digital Divide etc are given more prominence. 
The Environment is another issue that we are passionate about. Though media has given Environmental Issues its share of coverage, it has been observed that these issues are not taken up with the zeal and passion with which we follow the exploits of our favourite celebrity! At The Students’ Post, we see the Environmental Crisis as an inter-generational issue as the previous two generations have practically destroyed the balance of nature. 
The website apart from news also provides articles on trekking and hiking, previews and reviews on movies from bollywood & hollywood, books to read and so on.

The website also has a category named ‘KNOWLEDGE BASE’ where the skilled students can share their knowledge, posting tutorials on REPORTING & WRITING, DESIGN & PRINT, PHOTOGRAPHY, FILM MAKING giving information on how they went about their own projects and assignments etc. In KNOWLEDGE BASE TSP will also have professionals and teachers contributing as well.


Tajinder Pal Singh Walia is the editor of Technology and Creative Corner

Shravan Regret Iyer is the editor of Environment and Urban and Rural Affair 

Pranav Kohli is the editor of International Affairs and Lifestyle.


I urge you to visit the site and send in your comments, and also encourage your students to contribute. Kiran Thakur

Saturday, 19 May 2012

IGNOU-DW ‘Train the Trainer’ Programme

Prof Dr Subhash Dhulia has sent in the following Admission Notification

Application is invited for Train the Trainers Programme to be conducted by Indira Gandhi National Open University (IGNOU) in collaboration with DW-AKADEMIE of Germany. The programme is scheduled to be conducted from 6th -14th of August 2012 at IGNOU campus, Maidan Garhi, New Delhi. The fees the programme is Rs. 7,500/- and Rs. 1000/-(residential)

This programme has been designed with the objective of propagating the latest methodologies of training among teachers /researchers, media trainers, project managers, human resource managers, corporate entities and professionals of related fields to develop a skill set that can enhance their training and professional skills and update them with the latest in the field. Those who aspire to join teaching profession can also apply.

After setting two successful precedents in the streams of Train the Trainers and Web Journalism, the School of Journalism and New Media Studies of IGNOU if offering this third international training programme in collaboration with DW-AKADEMIE

Application may be submitted on plane paper along with CV to :
The Assistant Registrar
School of Journalism and New Media Studies
Block-15A, IGNOU
Maidan Garhi, New Delhi-110068  
Or Emailed to:
For further information write at above mentioned emails or contact +91-11-29572103/1608

Prof. Subhash Dhuliya
School of Journalism & New Media Studies 
EMPC Building
Indira Gandhi National Open University (IGNOU)
New Delhi-110068
Phones: 64788935(O) 40524672 (R) 9312266340 (M)
Alternative email:

Thursday, 17 May 2012

National Conference on Women and Media in Chennai

Dr. S Hemamalini has sent in the following announcement

National Conference on Women and Media

Dates               :           17-18 August 2012
Organised by    :           Department of Visual Communication and Women Cell (AASC)
Venue               :           Alpha Arts and Science College, Chennai, Tamil Nadu, India.

The media, a reporting device until few years back, has evolved into a powerful and vibrant tool in influencing the public opinion. Projetion of women in media is in a state of perplexity with glamour image on one hand and the traditional sacrificial woman on the other.

The National conference on “Women and Media would be a platform to gain a critical insight into the current media expose of women and enable in promoting a fair and balanced portrayal of womankind in and through the media. We invite papers, from across disciplines, that examine in contemporary or historical context the uses made of visual, verbal & written language in sections of the mass media (television & print, primarily) with a particular focus on the relationship between these conventional understandings of the respective sectors in the media field.

Sub themes :
1.     Portrayal of women and gender stereotyping
2.     Coverage of women and women’s issues
3.     Beauty and the Body image
4.     Any other relevant theme  
Papers will be selected on a competitive basis and an expert panel will be appointed for screening all the submissions.

Kindly email the full papers (approximately 15 pages in length and double spaced) or an abstract (maximum 1 page and double spaced) along with contact information and a 200-word biodata to by July 15, 2012.

Results of the call for papers will be sent out starting from July 15, 2012. The deadline for the completed papers will be 
July 25, 2012.

Please note that by submitting your paper, you agree that you (or at least one of the co-authors, if more than one) plan to register and present the paper in person at the conference. 
 For more information or any queries, please contact Dr. S. Hemamalini at or

Conference fees:
Students                       :            Rs.500/- 
Research Scholars        :            Rs. 700/-
Professionals and others:            RS.1000/-         
Others :                                     Rs. 500/-

Demand draft shall be drawn in the name "ALPHA ARTS AND SCIENCE COLLEGE JOURNAL ACCOUNT" payable at Chennai (India).
Last date to pay the fees                       :           July 25, 2012

NOTE: Accommodation with twin sharing can be arranged at nominal fee of Rs.100/- when informed before July 5, 2012.

Admission to SNDT’s Department of Communication Media for Children

Prof Radha Mishra has notified the following:

The department of Communication Media for Children offers niche, unique masters program which trains young women in producing media material for children. The focus is on Audio - Video production, Writing for Children and Puppetry & Creative Drama. Women interested in pursuing a specialized program in children's media (production and research) may apply. Details on our website...

Admission to SDM College, Ujire, Karnataka

Prof Hampesh K S has sent in the following admission notice:

 Admission to Post Graduation courses in SDM College (Autonomous) Ujire, Karnataka offered by Department of Mass Communication and Journalism, SDM College (Autonomous), Ujire.
For details visit .

Admission to Solapur University, Maharashtra

Prof Ravindra Chincholkar has made the following announcement:

Admission process for M.A. Mass Communication Course in Solapur University, at Solapur, Maharashtra, has started now. The details of admission process are available at 

Centre for Media and Public Affairs plans Special Bulletin on Child Labour

Prof V.Venkat Raj has planned to bring out a Special Bulletin on Child Labour and has called for articles. Please respond to the following appeal:

Millions of people around the world observe 'World Day Against Child Labour' on June 12 every year. International Labour Organization (ILO) launched the World Day Against Child Labour in 2002 to focus attention on the efforts needed to eliminate it. Globally, the latest figures estimated that 215 million children are trapped in child labour, and 115 million of these children are in hazardous work. In countries like India, the condition is too deplorable.

Being an active agent of change with forward looking social attitude, the Centre for Media and Public Affairs (CMPA) considers Child Labour as a serious crime against humanity. CMPA suggests that for effective abolition of child labour, we need to identify, reach out and work with communities where children are exploited.

As a campaign, CMPA seriously appeals to everyone in media and communication industry to deeply realize the responsibility in eradicating child labour. To highlight the significance, Centre for Media and Public Affairs (CMPA) will bring out a Special Bulletin in June 2012. The Special Bulletin will feature articles, columns and reports on social issues and challenges faced by the young Indians.

We request you to send articles, viewpoints, reviews, researches and reports on the related issues (maximum 500 words – as word file with image attachments)

With Regards,

V.Venkat Raj, President
Centre for Media and Public Affairs

Wednesday, 16 May 2012

Admissions to SNDT's Media and Extension Education

Dr Mira Desai has sent in the following announcements:

ADMISSION ON for next batch of MSc in Extension Education and PG Diploma in Communication and Media. Entrance test on 20th June 2012. More details in Extension Education Department of Home Science at and Please share this with others. WE NEED PUBLICITY and more students. .

CMPA to publish bulletin on Child labour

Prof Mrinal Chatterjee has sent me the following announcement
Chennai based Centre for Media and Public Affairs (CMPA) will bring out a Special Bulletin in June 2012 on Child Labour. It will feature articles, columns and reports on social issues and challenges faced by the young Indians.
You may send articles, viewpoints, reviews, researches and reports on the related issues (maximum 500 words – as word file with image attachments) to 
General Secretary
Centre for Media & Public Affairs
Website :

Admissions to University of Pune's Communication and Journalism department

Dr Ujjwala Barve has sent in the following announcement:

Admissions to various courses offered by Department of Communication and Journalism, University of Pune underway. Visit for details.

Friday, 11 May 2012

Media Fellowship for Indian Journalists

 Prof Mrinal Chatterjee of IIMC has forwarded the following for wider circulation among journalists.
OneWorld South Asia and The Akshaya Patra Foundation are collaboratively instituting a Media Fellowship programme for journalists in India to study, analyse and report on the issue of hunger and food security in India.

We invite applications from committed journalists to apply for this fellowship.
A brief of the call for proposals is attached herewith for your reference.

Please  circulate this widely amongst your journalist friends. 

The full details on the Fellowship can be found at:

Akshaya Patra-OneWorld Media Fellowships on Hunger - 2012

OneWorld South Asia
C 1/3 Safdarjung Development Area
New Delhi 110 016.
Tel: +91-11-41689000 - extn - 118
Fax: +91-11-41689001

Thursday, 10 May 2012

P Sainath exposes TOI

A young colleague sent me the following for the readers who do not normally get to see The Hindu. 
By P Sainath

The same full page appeared twice in three years, the first time as news, the second time as an advertisement

“Not a single person from the two villages has committed suicide.”

Three and a half years ago, at a time when the controversy over the use of genetically modified seeds was raging across India, a newspaper story painted a heartening picture of the technology's success. “There are no suicides here and people are prospering on agriculture. The switchover from the conventional cotton to Bollgard or Bt Cotton here has led to a social and economic transformation in the villages [of Bhambraja and Antargaon] in the past three-four years.” (Times of India, October 31, 2008).
So heartening was this account that nine months ago, the same story was run again in the same newspaper, word for word. (Times of India, August 28, 2011). Never mind that the villagers themselves had a different story to tell.

“There have been 14 suicides in our village,” a crowd of agitated farmers in Bhambraja told shocked members of the Parliamentary Standing Committee on Agriculture in March this year. “Most of them after Bt came here.” The Hinduwas able to verify nine that had occurred between 2003 and 2009. Activist groups count five more since then. All after 2002, the year the TOI story says farmers here switched to Bt. Prospering on agriculture? The villagers told the visibly shaken MPs: “Sir, lots of land is lying fallow. Many have lost faith in farming.” Some have shifted to soybean where “at least the losses are less.”

Over a hundred people, including landed farmers, have migrated from this ‘model farming village' showcasing Mahyco-Monsanto Biotech's Bt Cotton. “Many more will leave because agriculture is dying,”

Suresh Ramdas Bhondre had predicted during our first visit to Bhambraja last September.

The 2008 full-page panegyric in the TOI on Monsanto's Bt Cotton rose from the dead soon after the government failed to introduce the Biotech Regulatory Authority of India (BRAI) Bill in Parliament in August 2011. The failure to table the Bill — crucial to the future profits of the agri-biotech industry — sparked frenzied lobbying to have it brought in soon. The full-page, titled Reaping Gold through Bt Cotton on August 28 was followed by a flurry of advertisements from Mahyco-Monsanto Biotech (India) Ltd., in the TOI (and some other papers), starting the very next day. These appeared on August 29, 30, 31, September 1 and 3. The Bill finally wasn't introduced either in the monsoon or winter session — though listed for business in both — with Parliament bogged down in other issues. Somebody did reap gold, though, with newsprint if not with Bt Cotton.

The Parliamentary Standing Committee on Agriculture appeared unimpressed by the ad barrage, which also seemed timed for the committee's deliberations on allowing genetically modified food crops. Disturbed by reports of mounting farm suicides and acute distress in Vidarbha, committee members, who belong to different parties, decided to visit the region.

Bhambraja, touted as a model for Mahyco-Monsanto's miracle Bt, was an obvious destination for the committee headed by veteran parliamentarian Basudeb Acharia. Another was Maregaon-Soneburdi. But the MPs struck no gold in either village. Only distress arising from the miracle's collapse and a raft of other, government failures.

The issues (and the claims made by the TOI in its stories) have come alive yet again with the debate sparked off by the completion of 10 years of Bt cotton in India in 2012. The “Reaping Gold through Bt Cotton” that appeared on August 28 last year, presented itself as “A consumer connect initiative.” In other words, a paid-for advertisement. The bylines, however, were those of professional reporters and photographers of the Times of India. More oddly, the story-turned-ad had already appeared, word-for-word, in the Times of India, Nagpur on October 31, 2008. The repetition was noticed and ridiculed by critics. The August 28, 2011 version itself acknowledged this unedited ‘reprint' lightly. What appeared in 2008, though, was not marked as an advertisement. What both versions do acknowledge is: “The trip to Yavatmal was arranged by Mahyco-Monsanto Biotech.”

The company refers to the 2008 feature as “a full-page news report” filed by the TOI. “The 2008 coverage was a result of the media visit and was based on the editorial discretion of the journalists involved. We only arranged transport to-and-from the fields,” a Mahyco Monsanto Biotech India spokesperson told The Hindu last week. “The 2011 report was an unedited reprint of the 2008 coverage as a marketing feature.” The 2008 “full-page news report” appeared in the Nagpur edition. The 2011 “marketing feature” appeared in multiple editions (which you can click to online under ‘special reports') but not in Nagpur, where it would surely have caused astonishment.

So the same full-page appeared twice in three years, the first time as news, the second time as an advertisement. The first time done by the staff reporter and photographer of a newspaper. The second time exhumed by the advertising department. The first time as a story trip ‘arranged by Mahyco-Monsanto.' The second time as an advertisement arranged by Mahyco-Monsanto. The first time as tragedy, the second time as farce.

The company spokesperson claimed high standards of transparency in that “…we insisted that the publication add the source and dateline as follows: ‘This is a reprint of a story from the Times of India, Nagpur edition, October 31, 2008.' But the spokesperson's e-mail reply to The Hindu's questions is silent on the timing of the advertisements. “In 2011, we conducted a communications initiative for a limited duration aimed at raising awareness on the role of cotton seeds and plant biotechnologies in agriculture.” Though The Hindu raised the query, there is no mention of why the ads were run during the Parliament session when the BRAI Bill was to have come up, but didn't.

But there's more. Some of the glowing photographs accompanying the TOI coverage of the Bt miracle were not taken in Bhambraja or Antargaon, villagers allege. “This picture is not from Bhambraja, though the people in it are” says farmer Babanrao Gawande from that village.

Phantom miracle
The Times of India story had a champion educated farmer in Nandu Raut who is also an LIC agent. His earnings shot up with the Bt miracle. “I made about Rs.2 lakhs the previous year,” Nandu Raut told me last September. “About Rs.1.6 lakh came from the LIC policies I sold.” In short, he earned from selling LIC policies four times what he earned from farming. He has seven and a half acres and a four-member family.

But the TOI story has him earning “Rs.20,000 more per acre (emphasis added) due to savings in pesticide.” Since he grew cotton on four acres, that was a “saving” of Rs. 80,000 “on pesticide.” Quite a feat. As many in Bhambraja say angrily: “Show us one farmer here earning Rs.20,000 per acre at all, let alone that much more per acre.” A data sheet from a village-wide survey signed by Mr. Raut (in The Hindu's possession) also tells a very different story on his earnings.

The ridicule that Bhambraja and Maregaon farmers pour on the Bt ‘miracle' gains credence from the Union Agriculture Minister's figures. “Vidarbha produces about 1.2 quintals [cotton lint] per hectare on average,” Sharad Pawar told Parliament on December 19, 2011. That is a shockingly low figure. Twice that figure would still be low. The farmer sells his crop as raw cotton. One-hundred kg of raw cotton gives 35 kg of lint and 65 kg of cotton seed (of which up to two kg is lost in ginning). And Mr. Pawar's figure translates to just 3.5 quintals of raw cotton per hectare. Or merely 1.4 quintals per acre. Mr. Pawar also assumed farmers were getting a high price of Rs.4,200 per quintal. He conceded that this was close to “the cost of cultivation… and that is why I think such a serious situation is developing there.” If Mr. Pawar's figure was right, it means Nandu Raut's gross income could not have exceeded Rs.5,900 per acre. Deduct his input costs — of which 1.5 packets of seed alone accounts for around Rs.1,400 — and he's left with almost nothing. Yet, the TOI has him earning “Rs.20,000 more per acre.”

Asked if they stood by these extraordinary claims, the Mahyco-Monsanto spokesperson said, “We stand by the quotes of our MMB India colleague, as published in the news report.” Ironically, that single-paragraph quote, in the full-page-news story-turned-ad, makes no mention of the Rs.20,000-plus per acre earnings or any other figure. It merely speaks of Bt creating “increased income of cotton growers…” and of growth in Bt acreage. It does not mention per acre yields. And says nothing about zero suicides in the two villages. So the company carefully avoids direct endorsement of the TOI's claims, but uses them in a marketing feature where they are the main points.

The MMB spokesperson's position on these claims is that “the journalists spoke directly with farmers on their personal experiences during the visits, resulting in various news reports, including the farmer quotes.”

The born-again story-turned-ad also has Nandu Raut reaping yields of “about 20 quintals per acre with Bollgard II,” nearly 14 times the Agriculture Minister's average of 1.4 quintals per acre. Mr. Pawar felt that Vidarbha's rainfed irrigation led to low yields, as cotton needs “two to three waterings.” He was silent on why Maharashtra, ruled by an NCP-Congress alliance, promotes Bt Cotton in almost entirely rainfed regions. The Maharashtra State Seed Corporation (Mahabeej) distributes the very seeds the State's Agriculture Commissioner found to be unsuited for rainfed regions seven years ago. Going by the TOI, Nandu is rolling in cash. Going by the Minister, he barely stays afloat.

Mahyco-Monsanto Biotech's ad barrage the same week in 2011 drew other fire. Following a complaint, one of the ads (also appearing in another Delhi newspaper) claiming huge monetary benefits to Indian farmers landed before the Advertising Standards Council of India. ASCI “concluded that the claims made in the advertisement and cited in the complaint, were not substantiated.” The MMB spokesperson said the company “took cognizance of the points made by ASCI and revised the advertisement promptly…. ASCI has, on record, acknowledged MMB India's modification of the advertisement…”

We met Nandu again as the Standing Committee MPs left his village in March. “If you ask me today,” he said, “I would say don't use Bt here, in unirrigated places like this. Things are now bad.” He had not raised a word during the meeting with the MPs, saying he had arrived too late to do so.

“We have thrown away the moneylender. No one needs him anymore,” The Times of India news report-turned-ad quotes farmer Mangoo Chavan as saying. That's in Antargaon, the other village the newspaper found to be basking in Bt-induced prosperity. A study of the 365 farm households in Bhambraja and the nearly 150 in Antargaon by the Vidarbha Jan Andolan Samiti (VJAS) shows otherwise. “Almost all farmers with bank accounts are in critical default and 60 per cent of farmers are also in debt to private moneylenders,” says VJAS chief Kishor Tiwari.

The Maharashtra government tried hard to divert the MPs away from the ‘model village' of Bhambraja (and Maregaon) to places where the government felt in control. However, Committee Chairperson Basudeb Acharia and his colleagues stood firm. Encouraged by the MPs visit, people in both places spoke their minds and hearts. Maharashtra's record of over 50,000 farm suicides between 1995 and 2010 is the worst in the country as the data of the National Crime Records Bureau show. And Vidarbha has long led the State in such deaths. Yet, the farmers also spoke of vast, policy-linked issues driving agrarian distress here.

None of the farmers reduced the issue of the suicides or the crisis to being only the outcome of Bt Cotton. But they punctured many myths about its miracles, costs and ‘savings.' Some of their comments came as news to the MPs. And not as paid news or a marketing feature, either.

(Disclosure: The Hindu and The Times of India are competitors in several regions of India.)

The Times of India response was as follows:

‘This was not paid news but editorial coverage'
In response to questions put to the newspaper by The Hindu, an editorial spokesman for The Times of India asserted: “The reports (of 2008) were written very honestly and in good faith…” He said the 2008 page was the outcome of “a field visit organised by Monsanto for journalists from Nagpur.” The spokesman held that “as is the practice on such paid trips, the report mentioned” that it was arranged by the concerned company. He said he was “clueless” as to how the same story “appeared in Mumbai editions three years down the line as a consumer initiative too. It must have been picked up by Response.” He also had no idea about the full page in August 2011 being “followed by several advertisements.”
On the question of where some of those photographs were really taken, the spokesman said that was “something we don't have an answer [to] as of now.” Other journalists were indeed on that trip. But the full-page, repeated three years later as an advertisement was exclusive to the TOI. The spokesman asserted that “the reporters were not paid for the reports that appeared in Nagpur.” (However, it was neither The Hindu's query nor case that the reporters had been paid anything. The question was whether the news stories had also been sponsored).
The MMB spokesperson asserted: “It is incorrect to refer to their news report as paid news, as this was editorial coverage based on the visit and interactions with farmers.”