IFJ Deplores Omission of Journalists’ Concerns in India’s “Paid News” Inquiry

The International Federation of Journalists (IFJ) is

greatly concerned that an investigation into the practice of “paid news” has

drastically abridged the findings of two senior journalists who played a

crucial role in the inquiry.

 

“Paid

news” or “cash for coverage” has been a growing practice in the Indian media

but was found especially to have damaged media credibility during the campaign

leading to parliamentary general elections in April and May 2009.

 

A two-member

inquiry team of experienced professionals - Paranjoy Guha Thakurta, a well-known

print and electronic media journalist, and K. Sreenivas Reddy, General

Secretary of the IFJ-affiliated Indian Journalists’ Union - was set up by the

Press Council of India (PCI) after a number of India’s most senior journalists

went public with their concerns over the growing evidence of news coverage that

was paid for, by candidates and political parties, during the elections.

 

The two-member

team submitted its report on April 1 to G.N. Ray, PCI chairman and a retired judge

of the Indian Supreme Court. It was exhaustively discussed at two meetings of

the full membership of the PCI on March 31 and April 26, and referred for a

final opinion to a 12-member drafting committee.

 

The IFJ learns

that the drafting committee stripped the 36,000-word report to a tenth of its

original length, omitted all specific mentions of situations in which the

practice of “paid news” had been detected, and eliminated language on

journalists’ wages and working conditions that unions had specifically insisted

on.

 

“The IFJ believes

that all specific mentions of the practice of ‘paid news’ in the original

report by two experienced journalists were based on credible information,” IFJ Asia-Pacific Director Jacqueline Park said.

 

“The IFJ

is satisfied the journalists did all that was necessary, consistent with best

journalistic practice, to record the point of view of each media institution

that was named.

 

“When

incidents were not recorded, the IFJ understands that this was because the media

organisations concerned chose not to respond to urgent inquiries by the

investigating team.”

 

The IFJ

sees a clear link between the deterioration of working conditions for

journalists in India

and the erosion of journalistic independence.

 

Despite

the protection of the Working Journalists’ Act, which is widely recognised as

an exemplary law safeguarding media freedom, journalists in India are

increasingly under pressure to opt for short-term contractual employment which

diminishes autonomy and renders them susceptible to the pressures and demands

imposed by marketing and advertising personnel.

 

At its

meeting on July 30, the full membership of the PCI had little trouble agreeing

on the report’s recommendations, which include, among other things, the

statutory empowerment of the council to deal with gross abuses, and the

notification of “paid news” as electoral malpractice.

 

However,

while the final report observes that media organisations engaging in the “paid

news” practice are almost certainly in violation of the Companies’ Act and the

Income Tax Act, it stops short of requiring full financial disclosure and recommending

that tax authorities be empowered to make appropriate inquiries.

 

The PCI at

its meeting on July 30 reportedly dealt with the demand from some of its

members that the sub-committee report should be annexed to the final report.

The demand was voted down by a narrow majority. The full 36,000-word report

will now enter the PCI archives.

 

“The IFJ believes

that an important public purpose would be served by making the full report available

for a national and global dialogue,” Park said.

 

“We call

upon the PCI and its membership, including the representatives of the

publishers who blocked the full report, to make these very minimal concessions

to transparency and public accountability.

 

“We

commend the two-member team appointed by the PCI for having drawn attention to

the problem of ‘paid news’ and urge that it be given due importance and full

attention in upcoming public debates.”

 

For further

information contact IFJ Asia-Pacific

on +612 9333 0919

 

The IFJ

represents more than 600,000 journalists in 125 countries

 

Find us on

Twitter: @ifjasiapacific