An advertorial published in Business Standard’s July 29 edition, from Crop Care Federation of India (CCFI) has drawn a lot of flak. So much so that the newspaper issued a correction on the front page of their edition of the next day dissociating themselves from the content of the advertorial.
The advertorial made some malicious remarks about activists who have been campaigning against certain pesticides related policies of the government. These activists include Kavitha Kuruganti, a former Greenpeace Activist; Sunita Narain from Centre for Science and Environment and Umendra Dutt of Kheti Virasat Mission and so on. It also maligns several scientists from prestigious institutions like National Institute of Nutrition (NIN), IIT-Kanpur, Jawaharlal Nehru university (JNU), Public Health Foundation of India (PHFI) and others. It even carries photographs of Kavitha Kuruganti and Dr. Rashmi Sanghi of IIT Kanpur.
The advertorial repeatedly alleges that these environmental activists and their foreign funded organizations are trying to tarnish the image of various sectors such as pesticides, dairy.
The newspaper even admitted that the advertorial was published on account of an inadvertent error and was a clear departure from established practice in the paper.
It even published two such letters from the many letters received by them from NGOs and activists speaking against the advertorial. One such letter was written on behalf of Alliance for Sustainable & Holistic Agriculture (ASHA) endorsed by Jatan: A Mission for Organic Farming. The letter said that they strongly condemned malicious and scurrilous personal attacks against a range of individuals under the garb of an “advertorial” and further, even found the small note published by the newspaper, on the next day, to be inadequate, calling it a pre-planned strategy.
The letter further states that the advertorial of which the newspaper must have earned in lakhs, was an unethical, dishonest and misleading attack by the pesticide industry body that maligns a wide range of individuals and institutions. The letter stated that this was reminiscent of the vicious attacks used by the tobacco industry when the harmful effects of tobacco were exposed.
The letter said that the newspaper cannot escape responsibility and culpability for this libelous and irresponsible attack, which went to the extent of publishing unauthorized pictures of two persons, both women, while maligning their integrity.
Further, defending Kavitha Kuruganti and her work, the letter states that as opposed to the advertorial that states that she is working to malign Indian agriculture, she has in fact, been a part of farmers’ movements and has worked for the welfare of the most disadvantaged sections of the farming community including women farmers and adivasis.
The advertorial implies that there is a huge conspiracy cutting across social activists and scientists to malign pesticides and that all the studies that are critical of the impact of pesticides are driven by foreign donors to undermine agriculture. The advertorial also questions how Kavitha Kuruganti had access to the Pesticide Management Bill even before it was placed before the Parliament, saying, “it shows the reach of the foreign funded environmental NGOs, whose only objective is to influence our policies to suit the interests of their donors abroad”. There is nothing wrong with a member of the parliament sharing contents of a Bill with civil society groups, and it is in the interests of democracy that all Bills should be widely shared and debated, and inputs provided to the Parliament before the Bill is passed.
The Business Standard, after having received numerous such letters from members of civil society raising their voice against the malicious advertorial of the CCFI, the Editor of the newspapers penned down a note below each letter published, stating, “Our columns remain open to anyone mentioned in the advertorial by CCFI, to respond and have their say. We have initiated action on internal accountability for what has happened. And we have no intention of benefiting financially from an advertorial that was carried as the result of a mistake.”
The letter may be read here.