Press Council of India (PCI) chairman G.N. Ray has blamed corporatisation and monopolisation of the media for the new trend of ‘paid news’ and called upon civil society to press for legislation to curb it.

Inaugurating a national seminar on ‘Paid News — A Threat to Democracy,’ organised by the Indian Journalists Union here, Mr. Ray, pointing to the paradigm shift in the media, said national newspapers and the electronic media were in corporate hands, with the focus on higher profits through the sale of news as a commodity.

Referring to a Supreme Court ruling on the need to rule out potential bias, he said paid news was prevalent in other fields as well, but newspapers should disclose details so that the reader can judge whether the news is biased or not. “There should be an understanding on the core issues. But due to political compulsion, these are lost,” he said.

Mr. Ray rejected the charge that the PCI had suppressed the report of its two-member sub-committee that probed the allegations of paid news in the 2009 general elections. Clarifying that the sub-committee report was not that of the PCI, the chairman said it was the drafting committee’s majority decision not to include the entire report in the final recommendations in the absence of clinching evidence. He said the drafting committee was composed of people representing various sections and the newspaper owners were not the majority in it.

Delivering the keynote address, K. Kesava Rao, a member of the PCI and Congress Working Committee, said the Supreme Court, Parliament, jurists, writers and eminent persons had come out against the phenomenon of paid news. “But we are yet to come to a consensus on how to handle it.”

He warned that the phenomenon would continue to trouble the fourth estate and legislation by Parliament alone cannot curb this.

Suresh Akhouri, president of the IJU, presided. C.P. John, assistant secretary of the Communist Marxist Party and former Planning Board member; cartoonist Madhu Omallur; and journalist K.M. Roy participated. G. Prabhakaran, member of the PCI, welcomed the gathering.

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