Press Council report on `Paid News` syndrome

Last Updated: Friday, July 30, 2010 - 18:05

New Delhi: In a bid to check the
phenomenon of paid news, the Press Council of India on Friday
recommended among other things amendment to elections laws to
declare any payment for publication of news as a corrupt
practice.

Since election-time paid news syndrome undermines free
and fair elections, it is recommended that the representation
of the People Act, 1951 be suitably amended so as to declare
any payment for the publication of news as a corrupt pratice
or an "electoral malpractice", a special committee of the
council said in its recommendations.
The report of the Drafting Committee, headed by H N
Cama, former President of INS, was adopted unanimously at a
meeting of the 23-member Council chaired by Justice G N Ray, a
retired judge of the Supreme Court.

The adoption of the report was preceded by a heated
discussion on the subject but the meeting turned down two
proposals-- to include the original report of the two-member
Committee on paid news as "annexure" to the final report and
another suggesting "strengthening" of the Working Journalists
Act to ensure job security and independence of journalists as
an anti-dote to the paid news phenomenon.

The Council asked the Election Commission of
India to set up a special cell to receive complaints about
"paid news" in the run-up to the conduct of elections and
initiate a process through which expeditious action could be
taken on the basis of such complaints.

"The EC should nominate independent journalists or
citizens in consultation with the Press Council to various
states and districts," the draft recommendations said.

One of the recommendations favoured amendment to the
Press Council of India Act to make its directions to the
newspapers binding. This issue has been hanging fire for long
and should be taken up by the government on a priority basis,
it said.

The report recommended that the electronic media be
brought under the Council`s purview.
The Press Council of India should also be
reconstituted to include representatives from electronic and
other media houses, the report said.

The council also spoke of the need to self-regulate
and educate against the phenomenon of paid news, which it said
can be defined as any news appearing in any media for a price
in cash or kind as consideration.

Self-regulation is the best option, it said adding,
however, that "self-regulation only offers partial solutions
to the problem since there would always be offenders who would
refuse to abide by voluntary codes of conduct and ethical
norms that are not legally mandated".

It suggested that efforts should be made to educate
the voters and differentiate between the doctored reporting
and balanced and just reporting.

"This can be done by the Ministry of Information and
Broadcasting with the help of Press Council of India and
various associations of journalists and newspapers owners,"
the draft said.

It asked the I and B Ministry to conduct national
conferences, workshops, seminars and awareness-generating
campaigns.

A small committee of Members of Parliament from both
Houses should hold a hearing for suggesting changes in
Representation of People Act to prevent the practice paying
for news coverage in newspapers and television channels.

PTI




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