news': it's time to act.
It's been nearly a year since the ‘paid news' syndrome — an appalling
industry-wide violation of media ethics and a media-related electoral
malpractice — was brought to people's attention by a section of the media.
The issue still remains in the public domain, drawing critical comment and
protest every now and then. The large-scale practice of paid news,
particularly during the run-up to elections, has the potential of misleading
the electorate in judging the relative merits and demerits of the
contestants and, as a consequence, influencing the verdict by corrupt and
The report of a
sub-committee formed by the Press Council of India (PCI), which enquired
into the scandal in some depth, is awaiting clearance. PCI Chairman G.N.
Ray, a retired Supreme Court Judge, hints at some bottlenecks in legislating
on the subject. He attributes the emergence of paid news to the
corporatisation and monopolisation of the media. With Assembly elections
fast approaching in several States, the need for no-nonsense action on the
report in order to ensure free and fair elections is urgently felt.
has offered no clue as to when the report will be made public. He has,
however, denied the charge that PCI has suppressed the findings of the
sub-committee. He has claimed that the sub-committee's report is not that of
the PCI and that the decision not to incorporate the full report in the
final recommendations (for ‘want of clinching evidence') was made by the
drafting committee's majority. However a member of the PCI, K. Kesava Rao,
who is also a member of the Congress Working Committee, has said that though
the Supreme Court, Parliament, jurists, writers, and eminent persons have
come out in support of action against paid news, “we are yet to come to a
compromise on how to handle it.”
A paradigm shift
hard-hitting speech at a recent Coimbatore seminar, Justice Ray accused the
media of losing focus during the last few decades. In fact, he saw a
paradigm shift in the functioning of the media at the cost of values that it
had been following all along. Describing the media as a valiant partner in
democracy that ought to guide civil society, political parties, and the
state on the path of good and responsible governance, the PCI chief has
registered angst over the media sidelining this mission, with professional
commitment undermined by hyper-commercialism. The PCI chairman also cited
recent concerns expressed by the Securities and Exchange Board of India (SEBI)
over the ‘private treaties' entered into by some media houses with corporate
bodies. In consequence, the Press Council had issued guidelines for the
media on the subject.
treaties system has been characterised as a (business arena) counterpart of,
and a precursor to, the paid news phenomenon (in the political sphere), even
if the same actors might not be involved in the two cases. In a letter to
the PCI Chairman, SEBI stated that private treaties might lead to
commercialisation of news reports since they would be based on the
subscription and advertising agreement entered into between the media group
and the company. Any biased or imbalanced reporting may lead to inaccurate
perceptions of the companies, which are the beneficiaries of such private
treaties. Media houses entered into private treaties with companies that
were listed or were coming out with public offers “for a stake in the
company and in return providing media coverage through advertisements, news
reports, editorials, etc.” (“Private Treaties harm fair, unbiased news: SEBI,
report in The Hindu, June 19, 2010.) SEBI rightly intervened to protect the
interests of other stakeholders, companies and investors in this exercise,
by ensuring that the corporate bodies as well as the media groups that have
deals with them to be transparent in their operations by declaring their
relevant, mutual financial commitments at their websites.
A noteworthy difference
One significant difference of course is that neither SEBI nor the PCI has
demanded a ban on the private treaty system while virtually everyone — from
the President of India and the Vice President to political leaders across
the spectrum and social activists — has publicly condemned the paid news
racket and demanded an end to it. The Editors Guild of India has recorded
its commitment to keep the media as much as the electoral system
corruption-free. It has even promised to make the war on paid news its ‘one
point' programme in the coming year. The PCI Chairman and working
journalists associations and federations have all extended their support to
efforts to end the menace. Several newspapers and their readers have also
taken the right stand on the issue.
paradoxically, no tough and effective measures have been proposed, let alone
set in motion, by the Press Council or the Election Commission of India to
stamp out the paid news racket.To be fair to the ECI, it has expressed its
opposition to the reprehensible practice in no uncertain terms. It has, not
surprisingly, rejected the PCI proposal to depute journalists/senior
citizens as observers during elections. The constitutionally sanctioned
Commission did not agree with the PCI's contention that its recommendations
on paid news were binding on the Commission. The reason was that the
Election Commission would have to work within the constitutional provisions,
the relevant Acts, and electoral laws. Chief Election Commissioner S.Y.
Quraishi explained, in a letter to Justice Ray, that while the EC “is doing
its best in the matter and assures further cooperation, you would appreciate
that the Council has to facilitate more of self-regulation by media and also
develop and share with the EC a more exact prescription to adjudge paid
news.” The Commission, however, said that it would take “due cognisance of
the recommendations of the PCI in alleged incidents of paid news.”
Break the nexus
If in spite of huge support across society and across the polity nothing
much seems to have been done about ending the menace of paid news, the
reasons need to be seen in the mindset of the vested interests — the media
beneficiaries of the racket and the political players in the electoral field
who place a high value on propagandistic support in India's burgeoning mass
media. This nexus needs to be broken. At the same time, it must be realised
that government intervention is likely to do more harm than good in respect
of media functioning. Pushing for effective self-regulation and publicly
shaming the corrupt elements is the way to go — without losing more time.
Please read our earlier stories related to" Paid
News" &'‘Private Treaties’'
1).Paid News: A Cancer
Paid news: Press Council's sham report to
hide Indian media's shame.
3).Paid news undermining democracy:
Press Council report
an electoral malpractice, demands political parties.
5).‘Paid News’ issue raised in Rajya Sabha under Calling
6)."Paid news" culture is only a symptom of a
deeper disease says,
chairperson Mrinal Pandey.
7).Editors Guild condemns paid news
news turned media into a 'lap dog'?
News" Scandal Blotted Out by Press Lords.
harm fair, unbiased news: SEBI.
11).'Paid news' a major threat to
electoral democracy: P.Sainath
12).Press Release of SEBI Regarding
Mandatory disclosures by the media of its stake in
13).Corporatisation to blame for paid
chairman G.N. Ray
News" Scandal Blotted Out by Press Lords.
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