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Paid news syndrome can tarnish polity, says Ansari

Vice-President Hamid Ansari on Thursday warned that the phenomenon of paid news and coverage packages have a potential to tarnish the polity and destabilise the country`s economy.

New Delhi: Noting that the "DNA" of Indian
media organisations has changed after liberalisation,
Vice-President Hamid Ansari on Thursday warned that the phenomenon
of paid news and coverage packages have a potential to tarnish
the polity and destabilise the country`s economy.

"The recent practices of leveraging political and
economic content in our media for overt and covert revenue
generation have the malevolent potential to tarnish our polity
and even destabilise the economy," Ansari said.

Speaking at the inauguration of M C Varghese Memorial
Lecture series here, he said this has led the Editors Guild
and the Press Council to investigate "the phenomenon of
electoral malpractices of paid news and coverage packages."

Ansari, who was speaking on the topic `Indian Media in
the New Century`, said that while by the 1990s, the tradition
of a free press had been firmly established, "the winds of
economic liberalisation brought with them the elements of the
market economy that have changed the DNA of our media

The Vice-President expressed concern that with media
organisations turning into large business entities with
thousands of employees and huge financial assets, "their
primary professional duty to their readership has been diluted
by the commercial logic of catering to the interests of the
shareholders of the holding companies".

Echoing similar views, Chief Justice of India K G
Balakrishnan called for "introspection" as in recent years the
increasing commercialisation of the mass media had some
adverse effects on journalistic practices.

Balakrishnan said when media establishments become
preoccupied with the size of their readership or viewership,
there is a greater likelihood of journalists resorting to
intrusive news-gathering methods and editors approving content
without verifying the relevant facts or explaining their
proper background.

The CJI felt while "sting operations" and high-decibel
reporting may be justified in exceptional circumstances, "they
should not be resorted to as a matter of routine."

"Especially with regard to the legal system, there has
been a raging debate about how unrestrained reporting often
dilutes the right to fair trial for accused in high-profile
cases," he said.

Referring to suggestions to identify clear thresholds for
restricting reporting on sub-judice matters, he said "these
restrictions will carry meaning only if the journalists
themselves are willing to exercise restraint."

The Vice-President said the pursuit of profit has altered
the profile of the media entrepreneur. "Today, a media
enterprise is seen as a necessary subsidiary for a growing
business enterprise, a political party and even individuals
seeking to leverage public influence for private gain.

"On the other hand deception, opaque flow of political
information, or slanted economic data prevents political and
economic actors from exercising rational and well considered
choices. They impede the democratic process and could lead to
public disenchantment," he said.

Former Union Minister M P Veerendrakumar said India
was one of the few countries where newspapers were available
at a very low price.

He said since newspapers are unable to earn profit out of
circulation, they publish advertisements. This, he said,
forces them write what the corporates wish.


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