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Paid news, psst! You are under watch

Ranchi, March 22: Asha Devi, a parateacher roped in by Ranchi district administration for the media monitoring cell, listens to multiple radio channels every day for eight hours at the collectorate.

But even as she and her colleagues Shamshad Begum, Shanti Devi and Prameela Devi smile listening to the Fevicol item number from Dabangg-2 on FM channel 100, their quick ears catch the sweet female voice midway asking listeners to vote for BJP and its PM nominee Narendra Modi.

“Note karo, time dekho, BJP aur Modi ke liye vote ka appeal hai. Paid news ka mamla hai (Note this, note the time of the appeal for votes for the BJP and Modi. It’s a matter of paid news),” Asha Devi says. The team immediately prepares a report of this suspected paid news and dispatches it to the media monitoring cell coordinator.

Since the past two days, Ranchi district administration has formed a 45-member team of parateachers, government and CCL employees working out of district collectorate room No. 220. For now, this team will work till April 17, when Ranchi goes to polls.

“This team is specifically meant for the Ranchi parliamentary seat. It is a part of instant monitoring to report any attempt to plug paid and planted news or surrogate ads,” said Ranchi DC and returning officer Vinay Kumar Choubey.

Separate teams monitor TV, Internet, radio and newspapers.

Those monitoring television and Internet work in three rotating shifts, 24/7. Those monitoring radio work two shifts, from 6am to 2pm and 2pm to 8pm. Those monitoring 13 newspapers, both English and Hindi, work a single morning shift from 6am to 2pm.

Some, like Asha, listen to the radio and read Hindi newspapers both. “Listening to the radio minutely for eight hours is not an easy job. We furnish a daily report,” Asha said.

“We have placed eight TV sets. Twenty-four people watch news channels in three shifts, 6am to 2pm, 2pm to 10pm and 10pm to 6am. They report on any suspected paid news or inflammatory statement made by candidates or parties. A separate team reads newspapers. We report all matters to Election Commission of India daily,” Paltu Mahto, Ranchi district administration public relations officer said.

It’s a good start, but not free of glitches or complaints.

Those assigned to keep tabs over the Internet are clueless. Most are not Net savvy, while the BSNL broadband has poor speed. “I am making random searches. I don’t know what to do and there is nobody to tell us,” Munna Singh of the CCL said helplessly.

On the other hand, Asha complained let alone food, they didn’t even get tea.

A five-member unit “SMS and communication channels” was formed on Thursday. IAS and team head Ramesh Gorakh Gholap said they were preparing data of cellphone numbers of booth level officers, police stations nearest to booths as well as local people.


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