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 Up loaded on Friday March 19, 2010


Paid News: A Cancer in Indian Media.

By.Nava Thakuria .

   Courtesy: www.theepochtimes.com

              The practice of paying for editorial content, particularly by political candidates, has been an gnawing issue in India for many years. Lately, a number of influential media organizations have shown their concern with this ill practice. India it seems, has finally woken up to the menace of the ‘paid news’ culture in mainstream media.


             It is alleged that many media houses in the country, irrespective of their volume of business, sell news space to politicians and corporate people without distinguishing those items as advertisements.


           At the South Asia Free Media Association (SAFMA) India chapter meeting in Mumbai the first week of December, the issue of paid news was first officially discussed with concern. Then came the annual general meeting of the Editors’ Guild of India during the fourth week of December, where most of the members expressed anguish at the growing tendency of a section of media groups (both print and visual) receiving money for some “non-advertorial” items in their media space.


           The guild has sent a letter to each of its member-editors throughout the country to ask for a pledge that his/her “publication/TV channel will not carry any paid news as the practice violates and undermines the principles of free and fair journalism.”


           The letter, signed by Rajdeep Sardesai and Coomi Kapoor, president and secretary-general of the guild respectively, expressed hope that “the journalist fraternity would come together on this issue and would stand up to defend their credibility, and make public declarations on the subject in order to restore the reading and viewing public’s faith in the media by undoing the damage that has already been done.”


          The Indian media has been seen as sensitive, patriotic, and very much an influential tool in the socio-political sphere since the days of freedom movement. The father of the Indian nation Mahatma Gandhi initiated his movement with the moral power of active journalism. Today, India with its billion population supports nearly 70,000 registered newspapers and over 450 television channels.


             The Indian media, as a whole, often plays the role of constructive opposition in Parliament as well as in various legislative assemblies of the state. Journalists are, by and large, honored and accepted as the moral guide in Indian society. While the newspapers in Europe and America are loosing their readership annually, Indian print media is still going strong with huge circulation figures.


            For a democratic India, the media continues to be acclaimed as the fourth important pillar after judiciary, parliament, and bureaucracy. But unfortunately, a cancer in the form of paid news has been diagnosed in the recent past.


             The Mumbai meeting witnessed serious discussion and concern over the recent trend of the commercialization of mainstream media, and degradation of media ethics and practices in the country. All the speakers in the meeting were unanimous that media in the entire region must come forward in a transparent way to maintain public trust.


             Addressing the audience, eminent journalist and the rural affairs editor for The Hindu, P. Sainath disclosed that the corporatization of the media world had simply threatened the existence of free media.


             “Now the newspaper owners are greatly influenced by political clout. The proprietors now grant space for vivid coverage for the benefit of their “friendly politicians” in the newspapers. Furthermore, to entertain their growing demands, many media groups have even gone for arranging extra space in this advantageous period,” Sainath claimed.


              An official statement of the meeting, which was attended by many distinguished editor-journalists of India including, K. K. Katyal, Satich Jacob, Kumar Ketkar (editor of Loksatta), Om Thanvi (editor of Jansatta), Vinod Sharma (political editor of Hindustan Times), Sevanti Ninan (editor of www.thehoot.org) and more, expressed serious concern at the growing trend of selling news space.


            “The recent assembly elections in Maharashtra and elsewhere had revealed the spread of the pernicious practice of accepting money for giving editorial space to contestants. In fact, this evil had been perpetrated by institutionalizing it,” the statement added.


            Meanwhile, the press council, a quasi judicial body, has decided to investigate the issue and it has already set up a committee to examine violations of the journalistic code of fair and objective reporting by having paid news.


            Press Council Chairman Justice (Retired) GN Ray publicly admitted that a section of Indian media had “indulged in monetary deals with some politicians and candidates by publishing their views as news items and bringing out negative news items against rival candidates” during the last elections.


            A documentary titled “Advertorial: Selling News or Products” was produced by an eminent media critic and academic Paranjoy Guha Thakurta for India’s national broadcaster, Doordarshan. It was telecast last November. Guha Thakurta, a member of the press council team, said in an interview that the committee had received many complaints from journalists that a large number of newspapers and television channels in various languages had been receiving money to provide news space, and even editorials, for the benefit of politicians.


             Speaking to this writer from New Delhi, Guha Thakurta claims that the paid news culture has finally violated the guidelines of the Indian election commission, which restricts expenditures of political candidates.


          “Amazingly, we have found that some newspapers even prepared rate cards for the candidates in the last few elections. There are different rates for positive news coverage, interviews, editorials, and also putting out damaging reports against the opponents,” Guha Thakurta said.


           Despite the extent of the practice in India today, the Indian election commission is now taking the issue seriously. The commission recently asked the Press Council of India (PCI) to define what constitutes paid political news such that it can adopt guidelines accordingly.


Nava Thakuria is a freelance journalist based in Guwahati.


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