Media in India have long
argued for self regulation; against government control and censorship.
The Press Council of India was set up to help the objective of
self-regulation. Though the Council did succeed in laying down
ground rules and building up case laws on journalistic ethics, it could
not control wayward journalists and publishers.
Now the Editors Guild of India has thrown in the towel. It has asked
the Election Commission to take strong action against politicians and
media persons for paid news used for election publicity.
Paid news or packaging of advertisements as news has existed for some
time now. It assumed more serious proportions when it was used for
campaigning in the Lok Sabha polls in 2006 and Maharastra Assembly
elections in 2009.
Paid news undermines the basic precincts of journalism. It adulterates
news, abandoning the separation between news and advertisements. Thus,
it cheats the readers.
However, tackling it is easier said than done. There are a number of
ways in which business houses and politicians influence journalists and
publishers. Paid news is only one. The difference now is that a section
of the media is now directly demanding payment for publication of news.
The Election Commission can deal with publication of campaign
advertisements in the form of news under Section 10A of the
Representation of People Act. However, its powers are limited and
confined to matters connected to election campaign and coverage.
Besides, identification of advertisements masquerading as news is not
always easy. Besides, frivolous complaints cannot be ruled out once the
Commission starts taking action.
During campaigns, candidates may file complaints against media, which
carry adverse comments or reports about them, saying that they were
paid for. Moreover, there are complaints that newspapers refused
coverage because the candidates refused to pay money. This is not
always easy to prove though that would always happen in a market where
news is being paid for.
Many cases could be clinched only if it is proved that money had
changed hands. This would often require police investigation.
So, it is not surprising that the Commission has asked the Press
Council to draw up broad guidelines to identify advertisements, news
items and paid news masquerading as advertisement. The Guild has
also been asked to come up with concrete suggestions on how to deal
with the problem.
It is evident that the Commission alone would not be able to tackle the
problem which is not confined to election coverage and publicity. If
the Press Council and Editor’s organizations fail to tackle the issue,
legislation might be the only answer.
Related links (Updated):
Press Council of India on paid news
Press Council of India
Copy of Election Commission of India's
instructions on 'Paid News'