VJAS complains to ToI against ‘paid news’ on Bt cotton & Vidarbha


The Editor

The Times of India

Nagpur & Mumbai

Dear Sir,

Sub: False advertising campaign by Mahyco Monsanto Biotech in Times of India starting August 28, 2011. A serious instance of ‘paid news?’

More than once in the past some reporters of the Times of India (certainly in Nagpur) have shown much sensitivity and sympathy when covering the plight of farmers in Vidarbha. Therefore, we were truly dismayed to see Page 11 of the Times of India, Mumbai (Page 7 in Delhi. Page 13 in Pune) of August 28, 2011. This is a full-page advertisement issued by Mahyco Monsanto Biotech consciously aimed at misleading your readers, the general public and Parliament. It uses as its content, news reports that are literally almost three years old – as a line on the page itself reveals. These dated reports are also replete with factual errors and untruths.

What is worse, the original “news reports” were themselves sponsored by Monsanto. As a line on the page says: “The trip to Yavatmal was arranged by Mahyco Monsanto Biotech.” So a company first sponsors a news story the content of which is untrue. Then it pays to have the same story carried as an advertisement! For the company to carry its own paid-for news as an advertisement three years later is surely an outrageous breach of ethics. Worse still, on the online edition, Monsanto’s planted falsehood appears under “Special Reports.” Further, having done this, it runs direct advertisements in your and other newspapers for days in a row on page 3 and page 5, a massive and costly campaign. These latter are demarcated as advertisements but pretend to be the product of serious (unsourced) “research.”

Very importantly, this sudden spate of fraudulent advertisements is because the Biotechnology Regulatory Authority of India (BRAI) Bill is shortly coming up in Parliament. There is deliberate intent here of Monsanto to mislead members of Parliament into favouring its utterly dishonest claims about Bt cotton. Mahyco Monsanto has been on this offensive for sometime now, with various tactics including taking several journalists from India on a free, fully-paid trip to a Farm Festival in the United States last year. Some of the stories that appeared in different newspapers after that trip did not even mention that it had been sponsored by Monsanto. Nor of course was there any mention of Monsanto’s own deep corporate links with that particular Farm show.

Now we have Monsanto consciously misusing both your news and advertisement columns to mislead Parliament and public into favouring it. Note that the now-reproduced three-year-old news report makes completely false claims about Bt. And since when did the world’s largest specialised monopoly GM seed producer need a journalist to evaluate its science? While boasting that Bt Cotton has stopped the suicides in two villages (Vidarbha has over 12,000), nowhere does it give us the data, or the version of other farmers. Unfortunately, your publication appears to have been misled into carrying this mischievous full page advertisement in all editions across the country. And then again, into playing host to the ad campaign of Monsanto that follows this plant.

We appeal to The Times of India to uphold the best ethical standards and withdraw this full-page ad and the spurious follow-up ad campaign by Monsanto that is aimed at misleading Parliament on the BRAI Bill. We appeal to you to clarify to readers like us that you do not endorse either the passing off of your news reports as advertising, nor the false claims in Monsanto’s campaign.

Yours sincerely

Kishor Tiwari

Vidarbha Jan Andolan Samiti

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