Moots body to curb cross-media ownership, paid news
Expressing concern over paid news, cross-media ownership and the declining role of editors and their editorial freedom, Vice-President Hamid Ansari on Saturday stressed the need for corrective action to restore the credibility of the media.
“The corrective action should be undertaken without delay as failure to do so would lend credence to widely expressed apprehensions about special interests,” he said.
Pointing out some developments which “have raised questions about the media’s objectivity and credibility,” Mr. Ansari said a free, fair, honest and objective press is a potent instrument for enhancing transparency and accountability. “Freedom of the Press is one of the most important ingredients of democracy and reflects the character of the state.” In his inaugural address at the biennial session of the National Union of Journalists (NUJ) at Hathras in Uttar Pradesh, the Vice-President mentioned the findings of the Administrative Staff College of India, the Telecom Regulatory Authority of India and the parliamentary standing committee on information technology. He said their findings presented a disturbing picture.
He said most of the 300-odd news channels in the country were “loss making” and dependent on “dubious cross-holding, black money infusion and dodgy private equity investors.” In this scenario, the media was inclined or forced to adopt unethical methods, the Vice-President observed.
Referring to the TRAI document, Mr. Ansari said it had drawn a direct link between “uncontrolled ownership” and “paid news,” corporate and political lobbying by television channels, “propagation of biased analysis and forecast, both in the political arena as well as the corporate sector, and irresponsible reporting to create sensationalism.”
The paper had mentioned that “it is even more lethal where the ownership or control rests with entities which have both business and political interests.” The standing committee had asked the TRAI and the Ministry of Information and Broadcasting to consider the paid news issue on a priority basis. It had proposed “urgent attention” on the issue of cross-media ownership.
To curb the twin problems of cross-media ownership and paid news, the Vice-President suggested a statutory Media Council or a revamped Press Council of India functioning as a regulatory body for the print media and a similar body for the electronic media. Media owners and interested parties should not be on the regulatory body.
Mr. Ansari said the standing committee had also stressed the improving of the working conditions of journalists, including contractual employment and wage scenario, and to “ensure that the autonomy of the editorial staff was upheld.”