The Indian Express has found out through an investigation that the Madhya Pradesh government has given out at least Rs 14 crore as advertisements for over four years to 234 websites, many of which are run by relatives of state-based journalists.
Each of these websites has received advertisements ranging from Rs 10,000 to Rs 21.7 lakh. The websites have been identified in a list prepared by the government for 2012-15 in response to a question in the state Assembly by Congress MLA Bala Bachchan.
Information that has been gathered by The Indian Express:
- At least 26 websites received government advertisements worth Rs 10 lakh or more. At least 18 of these websites are run by journalists or relatives of journalists.
- At least 81 websites got advertisements worth Rs 5 to 10 lakh
- At least 33 of these websites are being run from government-allotted accommodation in Bhopal
- Many of the websites such as http://www.failaan.com (Rs 18.70 lakh), http://www.deshbhakti. com (Rs 8.75 lakh), http://www.rashtrawad.com (Rs 8.25 lakh), http://www.citychowk.com (Rs 11.90 lakh) and http://www.prakalp.org (Rs 10.60 lakh), are listed under different names but were carrying the same content when The Indian Express first started to contact them for reactions on April 19. The listed addresses of http://www.failaan.com (Prakhar Agnihotri) and http://www.indiannews&view.com (Rs. 8.75 lakh, Rajesh Agnihotri) are the same.
A journalist at a local news channel, Rakesh Agnihotri, has confirmed that Prakhar and Rajesh are related to him.
- Most of the websites have not provided any contact details under the ‘About Us’ or ‘Contact Us’ section.
Anupam Rajan, the commissioner for public relations, Madhya Pradesh, has said that money was provided to popularise these websites as a part of a new medium, without considering who runs these websites. They have now revised their rule and advertisements are being given by checking whether websites are working or not and the number of hits are also seen.
Congress MLA Bala Bachchan has raised a question that why are advertisements being given to websites of people associated with the BJP and some journalists?
The website mpnewsonline is run by Mini Sharma, a school teacher, who is also the wife of Gireesh Sharma, resident editor of Bhopal of The Pioneer. This website, without having any contact details, received advertisements worth Rs 17 lakh from the government between 2012 and 2015. Sharma said that his wife is not doing anything illegal.
The website that received the highest advertisement worth Rs 21.70 lakh in under the name of Ashwini Rai, who told The Indian Express that he works for BJP but not associated with the website.