The Standing Committee of information and Technology, which has been investigating the matter of paid news for the last three years, has criticised the Ministry of Information & Broadcasting (MIB) failing for discharge its responsibility and not doing anything significant to check the nuisance of paid news.
Reacting to the Parliamentary Committee’s comments, Uday Varma, Secretary, MIB said, “We have noted what has been published in the newspapers about the Standing Committee’s observations about paid news, though we are yet to receive the report.”
He maintained, “It is not correct to say that MIB has done nothing in the direction of dealing with the menace of paid news. Soon after the Ministry received the report from the Press Council of India (PCI), we set up a Group of Ministers (GoM) to deliberate on all aspects of this sensitive issue and consider the recommendations of the Press Council in this regard. While the GoM held several meeting and initiated some steps in terms of considering legislative changes to deal with the menace of paid news, the GoM could not conclude its deliberations – the GoM had to be discontinued because its Chairperson, the then Finance Minister, was elected the President of India.”
He further said, “We have sought the reconstitution of the GoM. The fact remains that paid news is a complex phenomenon and will require a comprehensive approach encompassing action by several agencies and ministries, including the Election Commission and the Ministry of Law.”
Speaking on the future course of action, Varma said, “I understand that the Standing Committee has asked the Ministry to initiate steps for setting up a media regulator or a media council with wide representation.”
At present, the Ministry administers the Cable Act, which contains provisions for content regulation. At the same time, for the last few years, news broadcasters as well as general entertainment channels have set up their own self-regulatory mechanism. The efficacy and acceptance of the self-regulatory mechanism is still to be fully established. Hence, this co-regulation is likely to continue for some time.
Speaking on self regulation, Varma noted, “A sizable section of civil society has expressed strong preference for an independent regulator. There are also groups that believe that self regulation is a good idea and needs to be encouraged.”
He added, “Given this diversity of opinion and absence of a political consensus, the issue of setting up an autonomous independent regulator may take some time to get resolved.”
Regulation of media by government bodies has been a much discussed issue, and there have been numerous attempts in the past to pass a Bill in this regard in Parliament, however, for one reason or the other, such a Bill has either lapsed or been withdrawn.
When asked whether such a Bill will be placed in Parliament this time, the MIB Secretary candidly admitted, “The past attempts to get a Bill on regulatory authority considered and passed by Parliament have not met with any success. The same situation is likely to continue in the near future.”
Speaking on self regulation by the industry, which broadcasters are insisting on, Varma remarked, “It requires great maturity and sagacity to put in place an effective mechanism. Such maturity and wisdom, as also the foresight to place media in the context of national well being, growth and development, will need a non-partisan and unbiased approach from all stakeholders.”
“It is an earnest hope that this happens sooner rather than later and we are able to put in place an effective and independent mechanism that ensures and protects public interest without compromising the fundamental right of expression as enshrined in the Constitution of India,” he added.