Tuesday, January 26, 2016

The Witchdoctor- Baba Scandal: Indian Newslink breached Advertising Standards Code and Ethics

Advertising Standards Authority’s ruling: Indian Newslink was “IRRESPONSIBLE” in promoting fraudulent witchdoctors.

Indian Media Watch- New Zealand had lodged a complaint with Advertising Standards Authority (ASA) as a concerned citizen when there was an outcry of fraud and bogus witchdoctors from India, whose fraudulent practices resulted in financial loss to people. Indian Newslink was the leading paper which financially benefitted from giving “oxygen” by promoting these bogus fraudsters, masquerading as men of Hindu Gods. This Indian media which allowed such reckless, irresponsible and deceptive advertisement should have known of this deceit, especially when its Editor sits on various crime and ethnic advisory bodies, sanctioned by New Zealand Police. In addition, it hosts and promotes excellence awards. Indian Media Watch New Zealand has sought accountability from those (media) which generally sought accountability from others.

Indian Media Watch of New Zealand,  had made its first complaint  to the complaints committee of  Advertising Standard Authority (ASA). It was against the Auckland based Indian newspaper, Indian Newslink for violating some Basic Principles of the Advertising Code of Ethics. ASA ruled that Indian newslink was “IRRESPONSIBLE” in promoting fraudulent witchdoctors and showed a lack of "social responsibility to consumers and society”
While the paper has changed the colour of its masthead to convenient blue (coinciding with the new flag and National Party colour), it does not absolve them of the citing and rebuke by ASA.
The complaint to ASA was against the Auckland Indian newspaper Indian Newslink, its Publisher, Jacob Mannothra and its Editor and General Manager, Venkat Raman for violating the Basic Principles of the Advertising Code of Ethics vis-à-vis items 3 and 4 which read: 

3) No advertisement should be misleading or deceptive or likely to mislead or deceive the consumer. 


4) All advertisements should be prepared with a due sense of social responsibility to consumers and to society.

In addition to above, rule 2 further amplifies above – 

Truthful Presentation which says that: Advertisements should not contain any statement or visual presentation or create an overall impression which directly or by implication, omission, ambiguity or exaggerated claim is misleading or deceptive, is likely to deceive or mislead the consumer, makes false and misleading representation, abuses the trust of the consumer or exploits his/her lack of experience or knowledge

Exhibit 1: Bhadra Kalimatha Astrological Centre advertisement of July 15, 2015 edition, page 4 (supporting advertisements attached):

The misleading advertisements, named after deities, with religious photos to con the religious-minded people who are made to believe these frauds possess some divine powers. 
The witchdoctors claim to have powers to solve  every imaginable human problems. They even claim to have powers to predict Lotto numbers, which they could never use themselves. It was extremely poor judgement for Indian media to accept such misleading advertisement which ended in people being cheated and robbed of money.
This advertisement gravely violated the requirements of the above principles and rule 2, as it was both misleading and deceptive. It was evident that due sense of social responsibility and duty of care were not exercised. 

ASA Decision

In advertisement for Bhadra Kalimatha Astrological Centre, the Complaints Board ruled that since the advertiser failed to substantiate or give a due response to the complaints, the advertisement had not been prepared with the requisite sense of social responsibility to consumers and the society. Hence the Complaints Board ruled that the advertisement was in breach of the complaints lodged above, and breached advertising code and guidelines.

It has cited Indian Newslink for failing to act responsibly. It ruled that Indian Newslink “had a responsibility under the principle of self-regulation to check the content of advertisement which ‘had NOT (my emphasis) been prepared with the requisite sense of social responsibility to consumers and society”


No response could be obtained from the advertisers because they had fled the country because of their illegal activities. The fact that Indian Newslink said they had stopped the advertisement is no gallant action on their part, as the goose laying golden eggs had absconded, hence there was nobody to pay for the ads, hence the paper had no option but to pull the ads. 

The main purpose in bringing this case and proving Indian Newslink wanting was to show that corporate and individuals with money, power and contacts are not above law. Media which seek accountability from others failed here when it was seen to be irresponsible and it appears to have abdicated its responsibility to the public and community at large. And this by an Indian newspaper claiming leadership in Auckland?

Also, this was from an Editor who was at forefront of fighting this evil and suddenly was gripped with selective amnesia. Why? All businesses need to have principles, especially those who have a big dance and song about dishing our awards for excellence in business, and hosting big lectures on good governance and building better society. You never do that by promoting frauds and their businesses of fooling vulnerable people.

Initially, yours truly Thakur and the Indian Media Watch had intended writing to the Commissioner of Police questioning the suitability of such a person representing ethnic communities, especially Indians, in crime, law and order issues. We will now leave it to the general public whether they wish to raise any concerns. I would also leave it to the good judgement and the conscience of the concerned person to determine, question and analyze his suitability for this august position. Anybody who appears to have compromised their morality and sense of public responsibility for profitability may not be best suited for any appointment that requires unblemished character of trust. I now leave it upon the general public whether they care. And let them be the judge.


In this David versus Goliath case, the intention was for a common person to be able to seek justice, and show they can make a difference. It was to seek justice for the society from media corporates, rich, well-off and influential people in the community with good connections, where they feel above reproach, criticism and censure. For a change, the media, which seek accountability from others were demanded to present their own, and Indian Newslink fell short. I now rest my case, and the lesson to Indian media in Auckland is that they are not above criticism and reprimand for any wrongdoing. Indian Media Watch New Zealand is not their enemy. It is just that it is friends of the community whose interest reign supreme.

A section of India media in Auckland which tried to defame this author and dubbed him as a “failed journalist” underestimated the power of a common man to seek justice for the community. FIJI PUNDIT (blog site) and Indian Media Watch New Zealand (Media-watchdog) are the by-products of this vendetta of hatred and show of power against a common simple person by so-called “giants” and influential people in the community. 

The irony in not lost that this is the first article of FIJI PUNDIT for 2016, and it is “released” in the same week that Bollywood movie, ‘Ghayal Once Again” is released. It is a sequel to 1990 blockbuster, Ghayal, which tells story of a common peaceful rural man –provoked, who fights back the high and mighty in the community. FIJI PUNDIT and Indian Media Watch New Zealand are no different.

[About the author: Thakur Ranjit Singh is the principal of blog FIJI PUNDIT and Indian Media Watch New Zealand. He is a qualified journalist, a post graduate scholar from Auckland University of Technology’s (AUT) media school and former media personality from Fiji].

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