Media is increasingly becoming the “handmaid” of politicians and business houses and losing focus on real issues in pursuit of profits prompting an urgent need for paid news menace to be isolated, treated and removed, media experts said here on Saturday.

“The press of late is becoming the handmaid of politicians and business houses,” said senior Indian express journalist Narayana Swamy during a national symposium on “Paid News and Pre Poll Survey and Exit Polls.”

Lamenting the media’s fall in standards and its “failure” to be a strong and effective opposition, he said journalists sometimes act as conduits for bosses to seek favours.

Chairman of Press Council of India Justice G.N. Ray said paid news earlier was more subtle, but had now surfaced in a big way, “sending shockwaves.”

It is unfortunate that sometimes paid news is passed off under the garb of news, Ray said and warned media of becoming “brand ambassadors” of political parties.

Regretting the “corporatisation” of news, he said the media was the “mirror of society” and should not lose focus of “being people’s voice” in pursuit of making some profits.

There were some media houses, he said that had withstood all pressures and hoped they would continue it. “If newspapers fail it will be the saddest day for Indian democracy,” he said.

Sadhu Rangarajan, senior journalist, Indian Express said those indulging in paid news were defiling the sanctity of the profession and its sacred dharma.

Senior jurist and AICC spokesperson Abhishek Singhvi said the media should have a self-disclosure mechanism, disclosing that a particular report of an event was a sponsored one.

On exit polls, Singhvi said they had the potential of disturbing the level playing field. “Opinion polls have revealed how things can go horribly wrong in details,” Singhvi said.

The Congress leader said the Election Commission has proposed new guidelines on paid news just as there was one for political parties like model mode of conduct. “Introspection and correction must come from within the press,” he said.

Speaking on the issue, National Law School of India University’s Vice Chancellor R Venkat Rao said the common man is being “sophisticatedly brainwashed” through paid news, while Dainik Bhaskar group editor Shravan Garg said paid news has assumed “cancerous proportions.”

BJP national spokesperson and columnist Nirmala Sitharaman also expressed her views on the subject saying that paid news syndrome had been “fine-tuned.”

“The menace should be isolated treated and removed as it undermines democracy,” she said.

Meanwhile, former chief editor of Organiser Sheshadri Chari suggested a solution to the problem, saying letters to the editors from readers objecting to paid news, was something no editors could afford to ignore.

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