Has paid news turned media into a ‘lap dog’?


New Delhi : Has the media turned into a “lap dog” from the watchdog of society it is supposed to be, thanks to the increasing trend of paid news witnessed today? Senior journalists and experts voicing concern over the issue said the media should be united in refusing paid news.

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At a panel discussion on the increase in paid news and the Press Council of India’s role to curb it, veteran journalists and judges Monday expressed concern over big business houses dictating to the media on what news to carry and how some journalists fall prey to sponsored trips, gifts and even sometimes cash to carry news.

The discussions witnessed noted journalists and columnists like T.N. Ninan of Business Standard newspaper, Seema Mustafa, Siddharth Varadarajan of the Hindu, Alok Mehta of Nai Dunia newspaper, sharing their views on the topic ‘The press council on paid news: Where do we go from here?’

Commenting on the Press Council of India’s role in curbing the growing paid news culture, its chairman, Justice G.N. Ray, said: “I am aware of the paid news which is flourishing in the media today, but we at PCI are like a toothless tiger as we can’t enforce, we can only put moral codes of conduct.”

Speaking about the change in the media sector and the entry of business barons to run media organizations, columnist Seema Mustafa lambasted the “the control over the media by the big business houses who dictate which news should go and what should not…. Nowadays a newspaper does not require editors, there are only managers to run it. And paid news is one step further for degenerating media.”

T.N. Ninan, chairman and editorial director of Business Standard, said the trend of paid news has been going on since decades. He cited examples of sponsored trips for journalists, gifts and even sometimes cash.

“PCI’s name and shame campaign was a wonderful idea which did not work. The only solution I can see is to get people together who feel strongly about it and work towards refusing it (paid news),” said Ninan.

Another solution was suggested of an alternate public broadcast system which is not controlled or governed by the rich and powerful.

“Public broadcast system like Prasar Bharati and the likes did not fail, they were systematically killed by the private media, agents of the corporate houses and advertisers. Unless it is projected in some way that the law should be enforced, the paid news culture will keep growing,” said B.G. Verghese, organizer and chairman of The Media Foundation.

Journalist Alok Mehta talked about the journalism of hope, giving examples of media organizations that refuse to bow down to the paid news culture. The Hindu’s Siddharth Varadarajan said paid news is “a management issue” and if a journalist continuously refuses it, then his job security is at stake, which is a matter that needs to be dealt with.

Justice J.S. Verma, chairman of Independent Broadcast Regulatory Authority (IBRA), concluded the discussion with: “Media is considered to be the watch dog of the society, it should not become a lap dog.”