Shocked by the “pernicious practice” of publishing “paid news” by some newspapers and television channels – particularly during the recent elections – the Editors Guild of India has strongly condemned this practice, “which whittles down the foundations of Indian journalism.”

Taking cognisance of “paid news” at its Annual General Meeting (AGM) on Tuesday, the Guild said: “Both the media organisations and editors who indulge in it, and the customers who offer payment for such ‘paid news’ are guilty of undermining the free and fair press, for which every citizen of India is entitled to.”

The issue was raised by Editor-in-Chief of Business Standard, T. N. Ninan, and Guild president Rajdeep Sardesai made out a strong case for dedicating 2010 to a campaign against “paid news.” The AGM, according to the office-bearers, drew record attendance with most members taking part in the animated discussion.

Besides setting up a four-member Ethics Committee, which will be headed by Mr. Ninan, the Guild also decided to approach the Election Commission to suggest reforms in the election laws, as “paid news” was being used by political parties to circumvent the strict limits on poll expenditure. The other members of the committee are: columnist B. G. Varghese; Editor of Mainstream, Sumit Chakravarty; and Editor of Manushi, Madhu Kishwar.

The Guild said such irresponsible acts by a few media organisations and journalists were discrediting the entire media of the country. It urged editors to desist from publishing any form of advertisement that masqueraded as news. It called upon publishers, editors and journalists of media organisations to unitedly fight this creeping menace of commercialisation and bartering of self-respect of the media.

The Guild took note of the fact that companies, organisations and individuals were also resorting to “paid news” practice. It deplored the practice of “private treaties,” where news organisations accepted free equity in unlisted companies in lieu of promoting these companies through news columns and television news programmes.

In the coming months, the Guild plans to work with other media organisations to sensitise the media and civil society – including political parties and the Election Commission – on the need to eliminate this “unacceptable practice.” Announcing its plans to unveil an initiative to encourage transparency regarding “paid news” and “private treaties,” the Guild urged all stakeholders to join this endeavour to push for a clean and transparent media.

Recognising the media’s right to publish and broadcast advertisements on all issues, the Guild said it was imperative that news organisations clearly distinguished between news and advertisements with full and proper disclosure norms, so that no reader or viewer was tricked by any subterfuge of advertisements published or broadcast in the same format, language and style of news.

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