With the forthcoming Assembly elections and the Lok Sabha elections slated for 2014, paid news has come into sharp focus once again. Paid news has been a concern for the Ministry of Information and Broadcasting (MIB) for a long time, and in a bid to curb the menace and to have a holistic view on the issue, the Ministry had sought stakeholders’ opinions in reference to the Press and Registration Act, 1867.
As is known, one of the proposals of the Act is that if a publication is found to indulge in ‘paid news’ by the Press Council of India (PCI) or a judicial body, it will have to cease the publication.
The proposal also highlights that no one in his/ her right mind can support paid news, but to give the power to PCI or any another body to close down a publication on a charge that can have several dimensions and hearsay requires far deeper consultation. “It is unwise to sneak in this sort of proposal at the eleventh hour and give stakeholders a mere 10 days to part of a fait accompli,” the MIB note stated.
Following this development, Foundation of Media Professionals (FMP) has requested MIB to extend the date for sending comments and suggestions. In a letter to the MIB, FMP said, “FMP has a track record of standing up for free speech and overriding interests of the citizen therein. We would, therefore, request you to extend the date of consultations for two more months, that is, February 8, 2014, so that we can hold deeper discussions on the subject on our own and trigger a nationwide debate on the subject in conjunction with other interested stakeholders.”
The last date for receiving comments from stakeholders was Tuesday, November 19, 2013. The Ministry had earlier stated that in case no suggestions are received within the stipulated time, it will be presumed that the stakeholders are in agreement with the amendments of the Bill.
It remains to be seen whether the extension is accorded to the stakeholders as requested by FMP.