The ‘paid news' phenomenon is an assault on the people's right to honest information and a major threat to electoral democracy, P. Sainath, Rural Affairs Editor, The Hindu, said here on Friday.

Delivering the keynote address at a seminar on ‘Paid News: A Threat to Media Ethics,' organised by the Kerala Union of Working Journalists (KUWJ), Mr. Sainath came down heavily on the Press Council of India for its failure to publish the report of the two-member sub-committee on 'paid news'. He said it was a clear case of the representatives of media owners having succeeded in getting the Press Council to virtually shelve the report on specious grounds. "At a time when journalists across the country are using the Right to Information Act to access information, the Press Council of India is suppressing its own report," he said.

Mr. Sainath pointed out that the report was being suppressed despite every major political party in Parliament demanding that it should be tabled in the House. The government too appeared to be in favour of such a step, but the matter had been left hanging as there were doubts about the exact legal position given the Press Council's autonomous status. The Press Council itself was not saying that it was killing the report. Its plea was that it was archiving it, which meant that anyone who wished to see the report must approach the Press Council every time they wanted to do so, he added.

Inseparable from money power

Mr. Sainath said the 'paid news' phenomenon was inseparable from money power and the clout that media monopolies wielded. It also had a lot to do with the global economic recession and the consequent fall in the advertisement revenue of the media houses that had indulged in the practice of publishing news for money. The journalist fraternity in the country had the duty to resist such practices because it was a question of survival of ethical journalism, media democracy and electoral democracy, he said.

Touching upon the coverage of the alleged corruption in work relating to the Commonwealth Games, Mr. Sainath said while the media had done an excellent job by exposing corruption, their silence about the much bigger corruption relating to the Indian Premier League (IPL) was quite distressing. The media had chosen to overlook the IPL-related corruption only because they stood to benefit from the huge advertisement revenue from the IPL, he said.

Earlier, the KUWJ campaign for ethical journalism was inaugurated by Chief Minister V.S. Achuthanandan.