Headed by Union Finance Minister Pranab Mukherjee, the Group of Ministers (GoM), set up by the Union Government in January this year to look into paid news malpractice in Indian media, is having its first meeting on September 7, 2011. The GoM is also likely to discuss the 71-page long report on paid news prepared by journalists Paranjoy Guha Thakurta and K Srinivas Reddy for the Press Council of India (PCI).
Meanwhile, there is a possibility that GoM may contemplate on the issue of having a separate regulatory authority for broadcast media. Or discuss on amending the Press Council Act to make its recommendations binding and electronic media be brought under its purview - as was recommended by the report submitted to PCI.
While, the GoM will discuss the nitty-gritties of the report titled ‘Paid News: How Corruption in Indian Media Undermine Democracy’, speculations rife that it might also mull over various other issues concerning the Indian media industry, which also includes the issue of Foreign Direct Investment (FDI) limit across media sectors. Besides, issue of cross-holding of ownership and control in media companies could also be taken up during the discussions.
Guha Thakurta, one of the two member sub-committee that presented the report on paid news, is not expecting any major decisions from the first GoM meet. He said, “The first GoM has to meet and decide on whether they will be looking at only paid news issue or take up other issues too.”
It may be recalled that in August 2010, after the hue and cry over paid news, SEBI had issued guidelines making private treaty disclosure mandatory for media houses. Also, the Election Commission of India (ECI) had issued guidelines that a separate committee should be set up and should be empowered to take action against those who are planting stories in favour of a particular candidate or political party during the elections.
The EC guidelines had explained that there should be a clear provision in the law to deal with cases of ‘surrogate advertisements’ – that is generally called paid news. So, for this purpose, Section 127 (A) Representation of People Act 1951, needs to be amended, adding a new sub-section 2(A). So, any election related ads, whether it is in favour of political party/ candidate or against political party/ candidate, during the election period, have to carry the name and the address of the publisher in the matter of the advertisement.
Guha Thakurta said that the prime concern of discussion during the meeting should how to make these guidelines more effective.
However, as of now, there is no clarity on whether this GoM will be dealing with issues which are related to the Ministry of Information and Broadcasting. But since Information and Broadcasting Minister Ambika Soni is also one of the members of the GoM, there are speculations that issues related to the broadcast industry, including TRP measurement, could be discussed.
The other members of GoM include Home Minister P Chidambaram, Law Minister Salman Khurshid and Human Resource Development Minister Kapil Sibal.