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.
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.
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.
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
“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.
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.
incidents were not recorded, the IFJ understands that this was because the media
organisations concerned chose not to respond to urgent inquiries by the
sees a clear link between the deterioration of working conditions for
journalists in India
and the erosion of journalistic independence.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.”
information contact IFJ Asia-Pacific
on +612 9333 0919
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