Grappling with the task of preparing a report on paid news, the committee of the Press Council of India set up for the purpose decided to define the pernicious practice and treat it as a malaise that should be tackled by the industry.

At the conclusion of its first meeting here on Tuesday, the drafting committee under the chairmanship of H.N. Cama of Bombay Samachar decided that the phenomenon of paid news needs to be treated as a menace that brought a bad name to the industry, informed sources privy said.

Although the two-day meeting saw some heated discussion on various aspects, it concluded on a cordial note with the chair authorised to prepare a draft report for the perusal of its members. Once it is ready, it will be circulated for final comments and a final draft report would then be placed before the next meeting of the full Council. The plan is to come out with a report on paid news ahead of the monsoon session of Parliament.

Besides defining paid news, the sources said, the draft report would contain five to six recommendations. While the focus has largely been on political reportage, it was felt that the final recommendation should include such pernicious practices in financial and business reporting too.

Another decision is to declare paid news to be an electoral malpractice. However, it was felt that specific recommendations were required on the manner in which action could be taken against organisations and individuals indulging in such practice.

The point of debate was to ensure that the PCI has a greater say in ascertaining and establishing whether a news story fell in the category of paid news or not. Greater clarity was required on the modalities of going about the task of inquiring into it. The sources said the issue would be fine-tuned after the draft is made available to members.

While the earlier meetings based on a previous report generated a verbal duel on attempts to link the issue of paid news to conditions of working journalists, it was emphasised at the two-day meeting that strenuous efforts should be made to restore the authority of the editor and journalists and to emphasise the need to distinguish news from advertisement or advertorials.

Carrying forward the debate for a greater role for the PCI, members were of the view that the report should stress that the Council should be empowered to deal with complaints relating to the broadcast media too. Currently, the PCI mandate is to preserve the freedom of the press, and maintain and improve the standards of newspapers and news agencies in the country.

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