Policy and institutional mechanism to curb paid news underway
The Union Government in the Ministry of Information and Broadcasting (I&B) has taken up formulation of a comprehensive policy and institutional mechanism to address the menace of paid news syndrome that has engulfed the Indian media world both print and electronic. In this connection, as ascertained officially, the Ministry of I&B has submitted a note to the Ministry of Law and Justice for amendment of the Representation of the People Act, 1951, to make paid news a punishable electoral malpractices and the Press Council of India (PCI) Act, 1978, to empower the PCI to adjudicate the complaints of paid news and give final judgement in the matter. The Ministry of I&B is also working to amend the Press and Registration of Book and Publications Act to check the incidents of paid news. In other words, the Press and Registration of Book and Publications Bill will include a provision to curb paid news.
It is further learnt officially that simultaneously, the Ministry of Finance is examining the Securities and Exchange Board of India Act (SEBI) to regulate effectively the symptomatic ill-effect of cross-media holding of shares and equity given covertly to media persons, known as Private Treaties, to toe their corporate interests depriving the people of their inherent right to fair, objective and unbiased news, views and analysis, yet another subtle paid news phenomenon. Private Treatise has adverse impact on the independence of journalists, editors, media professionals and its effects on encouraging paid news directly or indirectly. The objective is to bring transparency in Private Treaties. The Ministry of Labour and Employment is examining the Working Journalists and Other Newspaper Employees (Conditions of Service) and Miscellaneous Provisions Act, 1955, to work out a holistic solution to improve the working conditions of both print and electronic media personnel in order to insulate them (media persons) from the menace of paid new.
The Government has approved broadly the recommendations of the 47th Report of the Standing Committee of Parliament on Information Technology, tabled in Parliament during the first half of 2013. The Committee had examined extensively reports of Election Commission of India (ECI), PCI and SEBI on paid news together with the facts and studies by the Standing Committee on various aspects of paid news and its deleterious ramifications on different sections of society.
The recommendations of the Parliamentary Standing Committee included formulating a viable and enforceable mechanism to curb the menace of paid news, framing of guidelines and code to demarcate between advertisements and news, need for defining paid news, reviewing the working conditions of media personnel, enforcing guidelines and code for bringing transparency in Private Treaties, framing rules to regulate cross media holdings, implementations of the proposals by the ECI, strengthening of PCI etc.
The Government, as learnt from the official sources, is also considering penalty for paid news ranging from warning, censure, fine and revocation of licence of the media house, imprisonment, depending upon gravity of violations as well as repetition of violations of journalistic ethics. In any case, penalty, if any, would be prompt and swift to serve as a strong deterrent.
During the last twenty years, as can be had from the official sources, the successive Government has attempted over seventeen times legislative measures to regulate Indian media world while ensuring attendant freedom of press. But each time, the Government did so the media world raised the bogey of ‘freedom of press in danger’ as also ‘democracy in danger’, went ranting about such perceived bogey, which scared away the Government as it developed cold feet to go ahead in this regard. The Indian media world, having rejected the official moves to this effect, have been maintaining resolutely that it would have self-regulatory mechanism to uphold journalistic ethics in keeping with the rule of law based system of democratic governance and not officially regulated mechanism. In the process, the Government’s move to regulate the media, so far, thwarted. Whether the NDA Government will go ahead only the time will reveal!
The syndrome of paid news is not limited to corruption of individual journalists, managers/owners of media companies, corporations, public relations firms/advertising agencies and some sections of the political class but also a consequence of contractual jobs of journalists, downgrading of independence and autonomy of editors and primacy of managements/employers.
The menace of paid news is far and wide and all pervasive and permeating in its unfathomable multidimensional adverse effects. It’s time all stakeholders in the Government, political class, media persons, corporate houses, socio-cultural organisations, educational institutions, people of substance and public at large joined hands together to curb the phenomenon of paid news to free people’s minds from clutters of biased and coloured news as also generation of negative sentiments!