Siddhartha P. Saikia

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Siddhartha P Saikia

Media & Freebies: a murky connection

Siddhartha P Saikia | Updated on May 31, 2013 Published on May 31, 2013

Gifting is a unique Indian tradition. It spreads over different occasions, sentiments, relationships and what not! Among these, also includes journalists getting gifts at press conferences.

For me and may be many other fellow colleagues in the profession, this has become just another affair over the years. Now, it feels better to politely ignore and not accept the gifts offered at press conferences.

One of the reasons is perhaps there is no one else left to pass on the freebies. Friends, colleagues, cousin brothers and sisters, drivers, office security guards, servants all have got their shares in these years.

But it’s not the same for all. Though I knew this, but an incident that recently happened at an annual press conference of a public sector company in the national capital made me think over all these frenzy.

The company was offering premium Da Milano leather bags. These conferences attract several visitors and many of them come ‘just to pick up gifts,’ say public relations officials.

While the presentation from Management was over and the floor was open for questions, a gentleman raised an issue. He asked why only selected journalists are given ‘big gift packs’ and persons from ‘small banners are denied them? How come a public sector enterprise discriminate its guests?

He also mentioned that Directorate of Advertising & Visual Publicity (DAVP) also recommends 20 per cent discount on advertising to ‘small banners’ and wondered how the company could deny the gifts!

The Chairman replied – “I will check with my Corporate Communications department.” It is of no doubt that he already knew the answer and might have faced this awkward question before. But he had to give a politically correct answer.

I asked few senior journalists who have spent decades in this profession that when this procedure of bundling media releases with gifts started. None of them have the answer on when and why it started. But, most of them told me interesting stories about fights they have come across in their lives for claiming freebies at conferences.

Some of the companies have found an ‘intelligent way out,’ claim my friends working in public relations firms. The companies prepare a list of journalists that are authentic (according to the firm) that ‘deserve the gifts.’ Then the company despatches the gift directly to their offices or residences. These avoid the chaos for gifts at press conferences.

But why does it happen? I am not able to find an answer. The Chairman of a company sending a packet of chocolates on Diwali may be a different consideration. It’s a goodwill gesture and perhaps showcases a good working relationship over a period of time.

A journalist’s job is to attend press conferences but not to expect gifts there. Is there a fear that press release not accompanied by a gift will not be given coverage? May be the gifting strategy should be stopped to prevent the scenario becoming murky.

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Published on May 31, 2013
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