“Corruption in the form of paid news an awful phenomenon”

Media organisations, both big and small, must observe self-regulation as “there will be public support for external regulation if we don't regulate corruption in the media,” N. Ram, Editor-in-Chief of The Hindu, said here on Saturday.

Mr. Ram said corruption in the form of paid news, an “awful phenomenon,” would grow in the absence of self-regulation and “I don't see how we can stop external regulation, by establishing a law or some authority set up.” He was addressing the IPS officer trainees and officers undergoing mid-career training at the Sardar Vallabhbhai Patel National Police Academy.

The delinquency of influential sections of the press was responsible for the emergence of the paid news phenomenon. The same article would appear in different names extolling a Chief Minister or an Opposition candidate who was willing to pay for the propaganda in the guise of news. “It is not an ad, they cheat the election law. For the larger political parties, what it costs is minor compared with what they spend overall.” The Press Council of India had commissioned a report on paid news but was prevented from releasing it because there were vested interests within the Council opposing this, so that there was a deadlock.

“The PCI does not have teeth and the Election Commission of India doesn't seem to have jurisdiction or capability to stop this. But if we allow this corruption to continue, we will be asking for it [external regulation],”Mr. Ram said. Elaborating on the initiatives taken by TheHindu for self-regulation, notably the appointment of a full-time news ombudsman known as the Readers' Editor, he said big and medium-sized organisations that could afford it should institute an independent internal ombudsman to ensure that there was no need for external regulation and “rogue elements in the press would find life difficult.”

Speaking about the media coverage of police, Mr. Ram said while the press and news television brought some sensitive questions, including issues of justice, to the fore from time to time, several issues, including the conditions of the constabulary, development of capabilities in the police force, and security of tenure facing the police officers did not get adequate reportage. There was inadequate coverage of issues like torture, custodial and encounter deaths.

Mr. Ram, who participated in a lively interaction with the trainees, described Maoist activities as a very complex phenomenon. He noted that in many places, there was evidence that it had turned into an extortion racket. In West Bengal and Tripura, there was evidence of some leaders and activists of mainstream parties colluding with these elements in targeting the Left Front governments.

Asked about the focus in TheHindu on India-China relations, he said the two countries had a boundary dispute that was a “problem left by history.” Bilateral relations had developed along healthy lines, China had already become one of India's largest trading partners, and the two countries cooperated in international forums on key issues.