Journalists returned the currency notes and boycotted the press conference (photo: Indian Express)
In Puri, Odisha, reporters allegedly found Rs. 200 ($3.30) each in the media kit envelopes provided to them at a press conference addressed by Pinaki Mishra, the ruling Biju Janata Dal MP. The press conference was organised by UCO Bank, on behalf of the Parliamentary Standing Committee on Urban Development headed by Mishra, to discuss developmental projects being undertaken at Puri.
The upset journalists placed the currency notes on Mishra’s table and left the venue in protest.
“When we found the currency notes tucked inside envelopes in the notepad, we started protesting. It was a cheap attempt of the organisers to get a favourable media coverage,” Jit Patnaik, reporter of a local TV channel, told the Indian Express. “We all boycotted the press conference.”
Over a dozen journalists lodged a police complaint against Mishra and BJD MLA Maheswar Mohanty, accusing them of attempting to bribe the media.
“Putting currency notes in the media kit is an insult to journalists. The sad part is it was the government officials who distributed the kits,” local journalist Jagannath Bastia told the Hindustan Times.
Mishra responded by claiming that the whole controversy was engineered by his political rivals who envied the rise of BJD in Puri. “Of the 53 journalists who attended the press conference, 15 returned the money while the rest did not complain,” he claimed.
Puri Superintendent of Police Ashish Singh said he has asked his officers to investigate the matter, though the police were still not sure which section of the Indian Penal Code should be used to file a case against the organisers of the press conference.
“There is no electoral code of conduct in place now. But we are still closely scrutinising the complaint and would take appropriate steps,” Singh declared.
But that didn’t stop the incident from being repeated. In a second press conference organised in Bhubaneswar by UCO Bank, this time Rs. 300 ($5) was allegedly given in envelopes to the 40 journalists who attended it. No one returned the money.
Mishra, who was addressing the press conference, claimed there was no attempt to bribe the journalists.
“The bank (UCO Bank) gives conveyance allowance to journalists in such press meets. It was just mere courtesy. There is no quid pro quo arrangement. I find it ridiculous that journalists can be bribed by Rs 200. I don’t care for such FIRs. I know how to deal with such things,” he said.
However, the opposition parties in Odisha, Congress and BJP, alleged that the ‘bribery incident’ proved the political culture of the ruling party and was a brazen attempt to buy the media.
“After buying votes through money power, the party (BJD) now wants to use money power in everything it does,” claimed Leader of Opposition Narasingha Mishra.