By Utpal Borpujari
The country’s media watchdog Press Council of India (PCI) has recommended to the government that the Representation of the People Act be amended to make ‘paid news’ syndrome afflicting sections of print and electronic media a legally punishable electoral malpractice.
PCI, which has finalised its report on the issue after the Election Commission (EC) and Securities and Exchange Board of India (SEBI) wrote to it regarding the incursion of ‘paid news’ in political and financial journalism respectively.
However, the current report, which would be submitted to the Information & Broadcasting Ministry, focuses only on ‘paid news’ with relation to election-related news, and PCI would take up the issue of ‘paid news’ in business/financial journalism separately, it is understood.
PCI, in its meeting on Friday chaired by chairman Justice G N Ray, said while approving the report prepared by a 12-member sub-committee that the body must be empowered to adjudicate complaints regarding ‘paid news’ and give the final judgement which had to be legally binding.
PCI also has defined ‘paid news’ as follows: “Paid news can be defined as any news or analysis appearing in any media, print or electronic, for a price in cash or kind as consideration”.
The 12-member sub-committee headed by Hormusji Nusserwanji Cama was formed to prepare the recommendations after mainly representatives of media house owners in PCI objected to the draft prepared by a two-member panel comprising Paranjoy Guha Thakurta and K Sreenivas Reddy.
PCI, in its recommendations, has also advised the government to bring the electronic media under its purview as many of the complaints relating to ‘paid news’ in the last Lok Sabha elections were pertaining to news channels.
Accordingly, it has suggested that PCI should be reconstituted to bring in representatives from the electronic media and other forms of media too.
PCI members present at the meeting, sources said, unanimously agreed that ‘paid news’ was a menace to the society and a danger to newspaper industry itself and if the practice continued, it would hurt the industry in the long run.
The PCI, while deciding to study ‘paid news’ in financial journalism separately, noted SEBI’s complaint regarding “private treaties” entered into by some media houses with non-media entities to provide positive publicity in lieu of shares in those entities.