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Is ‘Herald’ Marketing Selling Editorial Space?

A journalist from Goa has sent a complaint to the Press Council of India alleging through a sting operation that Goa’s leading English newspaper ‘Herald’ has been indulging in unethical media practices by selling news space to aspiring politicians. GoaChronicle.com investigates whether this is a marketing folly or business strategy of the Herald Management…

In a letter addressed to the Press Council of India, a journalist with over twelve years of experience in media has sent a complaint with audio clips and transcripts of his sting operation exposing that Herald marketing team through its marketing manager Thulasidas Dessai has been selling editorial space to aspiring politicians for a price. This service was offered not only for towards its newspaper but its 24×7 television channel HCN also.
The letter in possession of GoaChronicle.com said the following;
“Over the last few weeks, I have felt let down by the editorial content, which regularly contains seemingly dubious ‘political’ interviews of aspiring candidates, in the Herald, which is Goa’s leading English language daily, and is temporarily being published from Panaji (Campal Trade Centre, Panaji, 403001) and edited by Shri Sujay Gupta.
I was informed by friends working in the newspaper sometime back that the political interviews, which have been appearing as news content were being published as ‘paid interviews’ in exchange for money.
The four telephonic conversations below with Herald’s marketing manager Tulsidas Desai, three of which I recorded on October 20 and the other one on October 22, clearly indicate that the newspaper and its personnel regularly indulge in paid political news as matter of routine.
Herald’s marketing manager Tulsidas Desai told me, (I was posing as Bernard Costa, a fictitious person seeking to contest elections from the Velim assembly constituency in South Goa), that I could get a political campaign interview (less than half page, 15 inches by eight news columns to be exact) in the daily newspaper for Rs 86,400 and for an additional Rs 50,000, I could be interviewed on the Herald Cable Network (HCN) which is a local cable news channel operated by the same media group. None of the paid content even carries an ‘advertorial’ tag, as can be seen in the copies of the suspected paid news articles I have submitted alongwith.
Tulsidas also explained at length about an interview of a potential electoral candidate Raymond D’Sa whose paid interview was published in the Herald newspaper on October 20 had cost Rs 2 lakh.”

In his letter to the PCI, the journalist further states that, “ I am also apprehensive of the fact that the top management hierarchy of the newspaper as well as senior editorial functionaries may be involved in the paid news practice and hence have opted to write directly to the PCI.

I am aware of the fact that I have recorded conversations between myself posing as Bernard Costa and Tulsidas Desai, without informing the latter, but I am of the belief that I was in pursuit of a broader good, which was bringing to light an instance of the ‘paid news’ nexus in the Goa media.”
When GoaChronicle.com accessed the transcripts of the conversation between Herald marketing manager and Mayabhushan (Bernard D’Costa) some of its details are quite revealing, here is one such conversation;

Tulsidas: Hello
Bernard: Mr Tulsidas…
Tulsidas: Ya
Bernard: Bernard
Tulsidas: Ya tell me.
Bernard: I spoke to you today morning.
Tulsidas: Ya right what happened no… Time being I think it is very much costlier kind of thing which I got to know you know
Bernard: Ok
Tulsidas: It is in terms of more than lakhs of rupees kind of
Bernard: For one interview?
Tulsidas: Vhoi.. ya. That is what I heard, so I thought not to take kind of this thing. What I can help is that within a limited this thing… I can take a half an hour interview which will be shown three times on the TV
Bernard: No… on HCN no HCN is not very powerful, Herald is powerful no…
Tulsidas: But when your news will come on Herald that watch HCN today at so and so time for the one to one interview of your candidature.
Bernard: Actually money is not a problem; can you tell me how much so that I can prepare myself?
Tulsidas: No they are telling a huge amount that is what I am really thing this
Bernard: Approximate. Tell me approximate how much approximate na. If I am willing then I can might as well go ahead with it.
Tulsidas:  Best thing know they were saying is approximately two lakh (rupees).
Bernard: So Raymond’s interview was two lakh (rupees).
Tulsidas: Ya ya ya ya ya…
Bernard: Ok ok ok… Actually one interview I would not mind spending that much.
Tulsidas: Ok I will just check with them.
Bernard: Ya ya ya
Tulsidas: I’ll just get back to you…
Bernard: Ya ya ya ya.”

The interview section referred is a part of the editorial columns being done on aspiring candidates who plan to contest the forthcoming elections by Herald. Previously Raymond D’Sa, Michael Lobo, Somnath Zuwarkar, Sameer Salgoankar, Tulip DeSouza and Glenn Ticolo candidates from different political parties have featured in this section.
Here are the contents of the confirmation mail sent by Herald Marketing Manager to Bernard Costa;

“On Sat, Oct 22, 2011 at 11:51 AM, TULSHIDAS DESAI <td@herald-goa.com> wrote:
To,
Dear Bernard,
with reference to our telephonic conversation about your projection as a part of your
election campaign first instance we will arrange to shoot your 30 minutes one to one
interview & will telecast 3 times within one particular day & will announce it on Herald
as a press note to drive peoples attention. We will bill you Rs. 50,000/- for the same as a
production & telecasting charges.
Besides as a part of same campaign we will arrange a space of 15 c.m. x 8 col. color advt
of your interview on page no. 2 on HERALD @ Rs.86,400/-. Payment to be issued in
advance.

TULSHIDAS DESAI
Manager – Marketing
HERALD & H C N
Mob : 9822568376
E-mail :
td@herald-goa.com
When GoaChronicle.com spoke to Sujay Gupta, editor, Herald Publications, he replied in an official letter, which reads as follows;
“Firstly, I wish to emphatically deny that any editorial content which has appeared in the Herald, without the “advertorial” tag line has been paid for. In his complaint, the complainant has attached newspaper clippings of several interviews we have conducted as part of our kin and kinship series of prospective new candidates in the fray. The only exception was that of Somnath Zuwarkar whose interview we carried after his return to politics. To even suggest that these interviews were part of a paid news package is hugely defamatory. Herald will respond to these allegations urgently and appropriately in a proper forum.
I wish to emphasize that I have been informed by my management that Dessai’s remarks, (as heard on the audio) file in relation to any assurances given to ‘Bernard” for disguised editorial favors is absolutely incorrect.
As Editor, my stated position both within and outside the organization has been that paid content cannot be disguised as news. Whenever politicians have sent out messages, statements of their achievements and other such information, through a paid route, we have prominently stated that they are advertorials. A case in point is the birthday of Deputy Speaker Mauvin Godinho where there were more than 2 pages of “news” items about Mauvin’s career and achievements.
Recently there was a four age advertorial supplement Vision 2015 where the Chief Ministers interview was carried along with information on other departments. However, Herald has not softened its attack on this government on several issues, making a clear distinction between advertisements/advertorials and editorial.
 Herald is the only newspaper which used the tag “advertorial” on top of their news pages so that the difference between editorial and advertorial is clearly established.
Coming to the proposed interview of the fictitious “Bernard” in HCN,  our marketing team confirms that that such interviews are conducted with  clear supers entitled “SPONSORED, indicating that it’s an advertorial.
The letter/email sent by Tulsidas Desai to the fictitious Bernard also clearly states that  the rates were for advertising /advertorial rates. The marketing department is within its purview of seeking advertisements and advertorials with a clear understanding that they would be treated like any paid advertisement.
Lastly and most significantly, Editorial was not in the know of any such negotiations or discussions the marketing had with any candidate or anyone else. The stray remark that “editors people” would be in the know of any interview to HCN is also incorrect.
I am also clear that ultimately issues of newspaper ethics need to be addressed by the Editor directly since he is the custodian of content. At no given point of time have I allowed disguised and paid news to slip through as genuine editorial content. However, it is imperative to ask if the media in Goa has done a serious introspection on whether we try hard enough to eliminate the ghost of paid news slipping through as genuine news.
In the present case, too, it is naive to expect that the said Bernard’s interview would have been carried in any form. But the final decision to run a story or not rest with me and my senior editorial colleagues. So a clear distinction needs to be made between news and advertorials. The two cannot and don’t mix in The Herald.
If the complainant had indeed wanted to test Heralds mettle and transparency in these matters he should have tried paying the amount and getting his interview published as news and then taken us to task.
However, I agree that with elections around a corner, we need to be more vigilant and watchful to ensure that the media continues to function as a neutral and independent watcher and not an interested part.

Audio Clips

Clip 1 : {mp3}paid_news_1{/mp3}

Clip 2 : {mp3}paid_news_2{/mp3}

Clip 3 : {mp3}paid_news_3{/mp3}

Clip 4 : {mp3}paid_news_4{/mp3}

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