The Press Council of India (PCI) in a report dated July 30, 2010 noted that the phenomenon of ‘paid news’ had acquired serious dimensions and that it was undermining democracy in India. PCI defined paid news as “Any news or analysis appearing in any media (print and electronic) for a price in cash or kind as consideration”. The Council further noted that the phenomenon of ‘political paid news’ became particularly noticeable during the 2009 Lok Sabha elections and thereafter during the elections to the Assemblies of various states.
The matter has gained momentum again with the forthcoming six-phased Bihar Assembly elections to be held between October 21 and November 20, 2010. The poll results will be declared on November 26, 2010.
Even as the Election Commission (EC) and political parties have made their stand clear on paid news, some newspapers have issued election coverage guidelines and code of conduct for their reporters. Besides this, EC has already directed the setting up of district level and State level committees to monitor such news during polls.
Curbing the Crime
Putting forward the point of view of national political parties on paid news, Ravishankar Prasad, former Information and Broadcasting Minister and BJP spokesperson shared with exchange4media that political parties were in complete consensus on the issue of paid news and that all parties felt that it was affecting free and fair polls. “The BJP’s stand on paid news is very clear – we are completely against it,” Prasad affirmed, further suggesting, “EC should define the heinous crime and set up an expert committee for paid news.”
The media, too, is vehemently opposed to this phenomenon. As Ravi Dhariwal, CEO, BCCL, stressed, “We will never carry any such news in any of our publications. We have covered many elections in the past and we are fortunate enough that no political party contacted us for any such news and we have never confronted any such situation so far.”
Meanwhile, quite a few dailies, including Hindi dailies Prabhat Khabar and Hindustan, have already issued guidelines for covering news related to the Bihar Assembly elections. Speaking on this, Shashi Shekhar, Editor-in-Chief, Hindustan, said, “We have alerted our reporters and staff through internal emails to keep away from all such unprofessional conduct. Very strict and clear guidelines have been issued in regard to paid news because we believe in fair and clean journalism.”
Harivansh, Editor, Prabhat Khabar, noted, “The evil of paid news is being practiced for nearly 15 years in several parts of India like Maharashtra, Madhya Pradesh and Rajasthan. But last year, when this conduct came into light in Bihar and Jharkhand states, the issue picked up drastically at the national level. The credit goes to journalism in these states.”
He further said, “The day EC declared the dates of elections in Bihar, we issued a code of conduct for our reporters during elections and published guidelines in our newspaper along with helpline numbers so that if anyone came across such news, they could inform Prabhat Khabar.”
Meanwhile, in another development recently, EC rejected Press Council’s proposal on paid news, asserting that the Commission would have to work within the Constitutional provisions, relevant Acts and electoral laws. The electoral body rejected the view of the Press Council of India that its recommendations on paid news should be binding on the EC.
The Commission had also turned down another proposal of PCI for deputing journalists/ senior citizens as election observers to monitor paid news. EC has already directed the setting up of district level committees and State level committees to monitor such news during the polls. EC has also earmarked specific divisions in its office to receive complaints related to paid news and take action.
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