Buried Press Council of India report on Paid News

It took a man like Sainath to break the story of paid news in public in the newspaper The Hindu.

PCI (Press council of India) made a committee to look into the matter of paid news which came down heavily on ‘the big guys’. The report they submitted named the names which the ‘big guys’ did not like. They successfully buried its report – in the watered down version of this report, original report was reduced to a footnote. Some excerpts from this original report were made available by Outlook magazine.

Delhi High Court has asked to made this report public on PCI website in response to an RTI by Oct 10, 2011. It has not done it so far (at the time writing this blog). There was no response from PCI to an email I sent.

SOME EXCERPTS :

In recent years, corruption in the Indian media has gone way beyond the corruption of individual journalists and specific media organizations — from “planting” information and views in lieu of favours received in cash or kind, to more institutionalized and organized forms of corruption wherein newspapers and television channels receive funds for publishing or broadcasting information in favour of particular individuals, corporate entities, representatives of political parties and candidates contesting elections, that is sought to be disguised as “news”.


This report tracks the blurring boundaries between news and advertisements/advertorialsand highlights the efforts made by individuals and representatives of organizations whohave painstakingly chronicled the selling of editorial space for money during elections

The entire operation is clandestine. This malpractice has become widespread and now cuts across newspapers and television channels, small and large, in different languages and located in various parts of the country. What is worse, these illegal operations have become “organized” and involve advertising agencies and public relations firms, besides journalists, managers and owners of media companies. Marketing executives use the services of journalists – willingly or otherwise – to gain access to political personalities. So-called “rate cards” or “packages” are distributed that often include “rates” for publication of “news” items that not merely praise particular candidates but also criticize their political opponents. Candidates who do not go along with such “extortionist” practices on the part of media organizations are denied coverage.

….

The regulator of the country’s capital markets, the Securities and Exchange Board of India (SEBI), has written to the Press Council of India on the issue of “private treaties” between media companies and other corporate entities and suggested disclosure of financial holdings and mandatory enforcement of  guidelines to ensure that the interests of investors are adequately safeguarded – these suggestions have been endorsed by the Press Council of India which, in 1996, drew up a set of guidelines that are particularly applicable to financial journalists.

….

Identical articles with photographs and headlines have appeared in competing publications carrying bylines of different authors around the same time. On the same page of specific newspapers, articles have been printed praising  competing candidates claiming that both are likely to win the same elections. Nowhere is there any indication that the publication of such “news” reports has entailed financial transactions or has been sponsored by certain individuals or political parties.

….

Such malpractices have destroyed the credibility of the media itself and are, therefore, detrimental to its own long-term interests. It needs to be noted in this context that so long as journalists (in particular, those who work in non-urban areas) are paid poverty wages or are expected to earn their livelihood by doubling up as advertising agents working on commissions, such malpractices would continue to be rampant.

….

The owners of media companies need to realize that in the long term, such malpractices undermine not just democracy in the country but the credibility of the media as well. Civil society oversight can also deal with the problem, but only to an extent. New rules and guidelines can be introduced and extant ones modified or amended. For instance, there should be a debate among all  concerned stakeholders as to whether a directive of the Supreme Court of India that enjoins television channels to stop broadcasting campaign-related information on candidates and political parties 48 hours before polling takes place can and should be extended to the print medium since such a restriction does not apply to this section of the media at present.

….

FOR INSTANCES AND EXAMPLE OF SUCH PHENOMENON, SEE THE REPORT.

As a concerned citizen, I urge all readers of this blog, to boycott such media-groups unless they issue a public apology. Such action not only produce misleading information but also undermine the very democracy which has given them ‘freedom of expression’ which a few countries outside U.S. and Europe are able to provide to their citizens.

The Buried PCI Report on Paid News 
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Author: Dilawar

Graduate Student at National Center for Biological Sciences, Bangalore.

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