The Press Council of India (PCI) has decided not to forward the detailed report on “paid news”, prepared by its sub-committee, following divisions within the Council, with some members objecting to the fact that specific media houses had been identified as offenders in that document.

Sources said 23 of the Council's 30 members turned up for Friday’s meeting and, with a “thin margin”, rejected the suggestion to include the 71-page report of the sub-committee as an annexure to the main report that had been prepared on 'paid news'.

The meeting also rejected another suggestion: that “the Working Journalists Act be strengthened to restore the working conditions and job security provisions in order to vest the freedom of the press once again in the journalist. This will put an end to the revenue factor in the news selection and presentation, and, thus, help root out “paid news.”

The sub-committee, consisting of journalists Paranjoy Guha Thakurta and K. Sreenivas Reddy, prepared the report after meeting a cross-section of society in New Delhi, Mumbai and Hyderabad and also went through many letters and representations that were sent to the Council. But some media houses, particularly those in Hindi, English and Telugu publishing industry, objected to their names being mentioned as practitioners of 'paid news' in that report, the sources said.

Mr. Thakurta said he was disappointed that the meeting decided not to annexe the sub-committee’s report. “I argued that it is important to make the report public through which we might shame those in the media responsible for this pernicious practice.” If not checked, the phenomenon would undermine democracy, the journalistic profession and the credibility of the independent media.

However PCI Chairman Justice G.N. Ray told The Hindu that the 12-member Drafting committee, which prepared the Council's final draft on “paid news”, had utilised the sub-committee report as the base paper for preparing its report. As the majority of the members were not in favour of annexing the sub-committee’s report it was dropped, he said, adding that the final report would be made public on Saturday.

In that, among other things, the PCI has decided to recommend to the government as well as to the Election Commission of India an amendment to the Representation of the People Act, 1951, to make incidence of “paid news” a punishable electoral malpractice.

Similarly it will urge the government to make the PCI fully empowered to adjudicate complaints of “paid news” and give final judgment in the matter. The government should also amend the Press Council Act to make its recommendations binding and for the electronic media to be brought under its purview; and reconstitute PCI to include representatives from electronic and other media.

The Council gave a definition for paid news which states: “any news or analysis appearing in any media (print and electronic) for a price in cash or kind as considerations.”

The PCI wanted all the publications to strictly follow its guidelines which state that news should be clearly demarcated from advertisements by printing disclaimers. “As far as news is concerned it must always carry a credit line and should be set in a typeface that would distinguish it from advertisements,” it said.

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