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Press Council of India Report on Paid News

Press Council of India Report on Paid News

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Published by IndiaMediaWatch

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Published by: IndiaMediaWatch on Nov 28, 2010
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Revised draft report prepared on April 01, 2010, for circulation among members of thePress Council of India
“Paid News”:
 How corruption in the Indian media undermines democracyPrefaceThe fifteenth general elections to the Lok Sabha took place in April-May 2009 and inorder to ensure free and fair coverage by the media, the Press Council of India issuedguidelines applicable to both government authorities and the press. After the elections, adisturbing trend was highlighted by sections of the media, that is, payment of money bycandidates to representatives of media companies for favourable coverage or the
phenomenon popularly known as “paid news”.
The deception or fraud that such “paid news” entails takes place at three levels. The
 reader of the publication or the viewer of the television programme is deceived intobelieving that what is essentially an advertisement is in fact, independently produced
news content. By not officially declaring the expenditure incurred on planting “paid
news” items, the candidate standing for election violates the Conduct of Election Rules,
 1961, which are meant to be enforced by the Election Commission of India under theRepresentation of the People Act, 1951. Finally, by not accounting for the moneyreceived from candidates, the concerned media company or its representatives areviolating the provisions of the Companies Act, 1956 as well as the Income Tax Act,1961, among other laws.
The phenomenon of “paid news” goes beyond the corruption of individua
l journalists andmedia companies. It has become pervasive, structured and highly organized and in theprocess, is undermining democracy in India. Large sections of society, including politicalpersonalities, those working in the media and others, have already expressed theirunhappiness and concern about the pernicious influence of such malpractices.
During his inaugural address at a seminar on “General Elections 2009 and Media
Reporting” on May 13, 2009, that was organized by the Andhra Pradesh Union of 
 Working Journalists at Hyderabad, Andhra Pradesh, three days before the results of the
fifteenth general elections were declared, Hon’ble Chairman of the Press Council of India
Justice G.N. Ray expressed grave concern about the covert emergence of the “paid news”
 syndrome and this issue was discussed threadbare during the seminar.Subsequently, representations against such malpractices were received from severalveteran journalists (such as the late Shri Prabhash Joshi, Shri Ajit Bhattacharjea, ShriB.G. Verghese and Shri Kuldip Nayar). They alleged that sections of the media hadreceived illegal payments for providing favourable coverage to candidates who had stoodfor the Lok Sabha elections.On June 6, 2009, the Press Council of India expressed serious concern over the
phenomenon of “paid news” that doubly jeopardized the functioning of an independent
 media in the country and the working of Indian democracy by influencing free and fairelections. The Council noted that the press provides a service that is akin to a publicutility
it exercises its right to inform because the public has a right to know. The pressthus functions as a repository of public trust and has the obligation to provide truthful andcorrect information to the best of its ability when such information is being presented asnews content. Such news content is distinct from opinions that are conveyed througharticles and editorials in which writers express their views.There is an urgent need to protect the right of the public to accurate information beforevoters exercise their franchise in favour of a particular candidate in the electoral fray. Anopinion that was expressed in the Council is that one reason for the proliferation of the
“paid news” phenomenon could be that on account of the limits on election campaign
 related expenditure that have been imposed by the Election Commission of India,
candidates have chosen this alternative to publicize themselves, in the process posing adanger to the conduct of free and fair elections. It was suggested that the powers that arevested in returning officers appointed by the Election Commission before the electionstake place are adequate for such officers to issue notices to the press to explain the basis
of particular “news” reports and ascertain whether financial transactions had actually
 taken place between candidates and representatives of media companies.The Press Council of India felt that in pursuance of the mandate given to the Council byParliament, it was incumbent upon this statutory authority to examine the issue in all itsdimensions through detailed research and consultations. Such an exercise was deemednecessary to maintain the faith of the public in the media and also make appropriaterecommendations to check such malpractices from recurring on a wide scale before theforthcoming rounds of elections at both the Union and state levels.On June 10, 2009, the Delhi Union of Journalists communicated with the Press Counciltelegraphically and expressed its concern at reports of money power having played havocwith the media coverage of the elections that had taken place. Shri S.K. Pande, President,
Delhi Union of Journalists described the “paid news” phenomenon as unethical, unfair
 and an infringement of the right of journalists to report freely. He further informed theCouncil that selected journalists had been targetted by the managements of mediacompanies for not acquiescing with such malpractices.It may not be out of place in this context to state that the attention of the Press Council of India had been drawn as early as April 2003 by one its members (the late Shri N.Thiagrajan) about the publication of advertising material in the garb of news reports for afee. At that time, the Council had urged the media to introspect whether such practicesenhanced the credibility of news reportage and advised that journalistic proprietydemanded that advertisements should be clearly distinguishable from editorial content.

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