IFJ Welcomes New Disclosure Rules For India’s Media

The International Federation of Journalists (IFJ)

welcomes new disclosure norms introduced by the Securities and Exchange Board

of India (SEBI), requiring that the country’s media companies reveal any shareholdings

held in companies they report on.

 

These

norms evolved in consultation with the Press Council of India (PCI) in response

to growing public concern over the prevalence of news content that was paid for

by corporate and political entities.

 

“The IFJ

believes that disclosure norms are mandatory for individual journalists under

codes of practice enforced by all media houses,” IFJ

Asia-Pacific Director Jacqueline Park said.

 

“However,

it seems that the media houses themselves have failed to meet the standards of

transparency and public probity that they expect from their journalists.”

 

The

practice of “private treaties” between media houses and corporate entities,

which involved an exchange of shares for free advertising space and time, has

been the focus of considerable public anxiety. Invariably these “private

treaties” involved corporate entities that had imminent plans of public share

offers. Media houses that acquired shares in these companies stood to make

windfall gains when the shares were listed on the stock markets. SEBI has drawn

attention to the potential for serious conflict of interest in this practice.

 

On request

from SEBI, the PCI tendered advice on August 2 that the following disclosures

be made mandatory for media houses: (i) their share holdings in companies that

were being reported on; (ii) the quantum and value of their stakes in companies

they had concluded “private treaties” with; and (iii) any nominees they have on

the boards of the companies they report on.

 

Concerns

about news coverage that was paid for came into sharp focus after India’s

general elections in 2009, when several newspapers were found to have opened

bargain counters for candidates to bid for space and favourable coverage.

 

This range

of media malpractices was the subject of an inquiry by a specially constituted

two-member committee of the PCI, which submitted a comprehensive report for the

consideration of the full membership of the council in April. As the IFJ noted

earlier in August, several of the key findings and recommendations of the

two-member committee were omitted when the PCI issued its final report in late July.

 

“The SEBI

requirement for mandatory disclosure by media companies in situations involving

a potential conflict of interest are welcome in this context. Though we

understand that SEBI, unlike the PCI, has powers of statutory enforcement, we

would expect India’s

media industry to voluntarily put in place the proposed disclosure norms which

are essential to ensuring free media practices in a democratic society,” Park

said.

 

For further

information contact IFJ Asia-Pacific

on +612 9333 0919

 

The IFJ

represents more than 600,000 journalists in 125 countries

 

Find the

IFJ on Twitter: @ifjasiapacific