As some members object to mention of certain media houses
The Press Council of India (PCI) has decided not to forward the detailed report on ‘paid news,' prepared by its sub-committee, following divisions in 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 the 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: “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 went through many letters and representations sent to the Council. But some media houses, especially those in the 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, he said.
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's report as the base paper for its report. As the majority of the members were not in favour of annexing the sub-committee's report, it was dropped. The final report would be made public over the weekend.
Among other things, the PCI has decided to recommend to the government as well as the Election Commission an amendment to the Representation of the People Act, 1951, to make incidence of ‘paid news' a punishable electoral malpractice. It will urge the government to make the PCI fully empowered to adjudicate on complaints of ‘paid news' and give a final judgment. 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 the PCI to include representatives from the electronic and other media.
The Council gave a definition for ‘paid news:' “Any news or analysis appearing in any media (print and electronic) for a price in cash or kind as considerations.”
The PCI wanted all 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 will distinguish it from advertisements.”