(Weekly Organ of the Communist Party of India (Marxist)
June 13, 2010
Operation Cover-up Now Begins
S K Pandey
“PAID news is like a snake whose hood is down and tail underground. It is not easy to pull it out. There is circumstantial evidence of all type, but little proof.” So said S V Quraishi, one of the election commissioners in a recent article.
Noting that the "DNA" of Indian media organisations has changed after liberalisation, vice president Hamid Ansari said on January 28, 2010: "That the phenomenon of paid news and coverage package have a potential to tarnish the polity and destabilise the country's economy.”
“Paid news is a ‘fatal combination’ of three M’s, namely, the media, money and mafia, that has subverted free and fair elections .....”, says Madhubhushi Sridhar, a legal expert, at a seminar on the subject in 2009.
but surely, the news for sale scam,
spotlighted in the Press Council of India, is set for a cover-up. From
expose in the council, led painstakingly by Paranjoy Guha Thakurta with
from Srinivas Reddy of the Indian Journalists Union, the ball has been
a wider Press Council net. From the
questions being asked are manifold. What are
the pressures on the Press Council of India trying to cover up the cash
coverage abuse? From
Clearly caught in the act as practitioners of "paid news" are the largest circulated newspapers in Hindi and Marathi. These papers belong to big business houses that have diversified into other media lines. Both have ad revenues consistent with their leadership positions is respective market segments. None of them can plausibly advance the argument that they are impelled to adopt the "paid news" practice on account of dire financial need.
credibility is a visible casualty, as is
the integrity of the electoral process. The chief minister of
Deserving serious consideration are the views of Dr Madabhushi Sridhar. He said politicians used to hire musclemen, earlier, for huge amounts of money and train them in booth rigging. "Now..... candidates are training media pens instead of mafia guns to 'rig' the minds of people with constant opinion bombarding," he added.
Dr Sridhar further stated that news items misguide readers about particular candidates by reporting that they are forging ahead in elections. "They use expressions which are most of the time absolutely false. The lack of truth in such statements can be easily verified as the same page of the same newspaper also publishes a similar story about a rival candidate. It is also reported that some pages of district edition tabloids were changed twice or thrice every day to accommodate the 'success trail' of different candidates in the same constituency."
He has made the open charge that the trend of publishing news for money is on par with criminalisation of elections. "It is not just a breach of media ethics or impropriety and not just the concern of the Press Council of India. It is a crime against democracy, punishable under law.... the syndrome is just not the concern of the Press Council of India but a real challenge to the Election Commission of India, whose sole aim is to conduct free and fair polls...."
Dr Sridhar added: "Under Section 123 of the Representation of People Act 1951, bribery, undue influence, appeal on the ground of religion, caste, etc, publication of false statement relating to a candidate, free conveyance of voters, incurring of election expenditure in excess of the prescribed limit and seeking assistance of government servants are all considered corrupt practices. In 1989, booth capturing was added as another 'corrupt practice' in the law. In the present context, the media sold space and time to perpetrate undue influence and by the publication of false statements relating to winning chances of a candidate. In the process, the candidates spent huge amounts of money for coverage 'packages' which is a corrupt practice. These aspects have to be considered, investigated and prevented by the machinery of the Election Commission of India, as and when such things are happening. The Commission should not leave it to be decided at the time of hearing of election petitions, which means that the state would allow perpetration of corrupt practices and then wait for 'proof' of the same before election tribunals....”
a way, before the cover-up attempts began,
the Press Council of India’s first report --- based on the testimonies
journalists, unions of journalists, other organisations and individuals
politicians who deposed before the council --- went a very long way in
establishing the fact that the pernicious practice of "paid news" has
become widespread across the media (both print and electronic, English
non-English languages) in different parts of the country.
phenomenon appears to be less pervasive in states like Kerala and Tamil
where the media are clearly divided along political lines. It is
notable that a
great deal of work in this regard had been done by Paranjoy Guha
Thakurta and P
Sainath through a series of exposures, while the Delhi Union of
continuous interventions through a public meeting and in other ways.
and veteran journalists like the Late Prabhash Joshi, Kuldeep Nayar,
Pradesh Union of Working Journalists, sections of the Indian
independent journalists of Andhra Pradesh, legal expert Madhubhushi
Ram Bahadur Rai and Anuradha Raman (journalists) and Akshat Kaushal of
Indian Institute of Mass Communications in Delhi also made valuable
contributions. A great deal of credit goes to the work began by late
Joshi who fired the first salvo at a seminar organised by the Delhi
Journalists and called for public meetings, intervened in the Press
with some senior editors and stressed the point his last speech to a
group of journalists.
The Editors Guild also set up an ethics committee while the press
and Women's Press Corps held a seminar; some other journalist bodies
intervened. A key role was played by investigative journalist P Sainath
exposing the dimensions of the scam which was visible even in the
From among the political parties, CPI(M) Polit Bureau member Sitaram Yechury called the paid news syndrome a negation of parliamentary democracy, while the CPI(M) general secretary Prakash Karat suggested an amendment to the Representation of People's Act to declare the paid news an electoral malpractice.
PCI report on "paid news," it is
learnt, covers a wide range of practices that have compromised media
Leveraging news content as a direct revenue source is not a new
formally began in March 2003, when
Two years later, the same media group introduced another innovation, called "private treaties," involving the acquisition of shares in enterprises in exchange for advertising space. When the concerned enterprise grew to a level where it could conceivably go public, the media company that had freely advertised its merits would cash in. The example was one that most media enterprises, including the broadcast companies, have eagerly followed.
Now it seems select publishers and proprietors, led by select media mughals, are tightening the screw to save their credibility and save their long term interest. Like the ping pong being played on the Women's Reservation Bill, the news coverage scam 2009-2010 is also set for a reprieve. It is believed that some journalist members of the Press Council are hunting for yet another term, for which purpose help from some press barons is necessary. Rules are being manipulated help the status-quo, with the government’s interests also chipping in. As it is, the report of the two-member committee has now gone to a wider council and from there one wonders whether it would find its way to the dustbin.
said report on paid news and how corruption
in the Indian media undermines democracy, is jam packed with concrete
particularly from the Hindi language press. Here are some examples from
civil aviation minister Harmohan Dhawan
was quoted in Pratham Pravakta Magazine
(in its edition dated July 16, 2009), stating:
"I was contesting the 2009 elections on a ticket of the BSP from
while a cover-up attempt is on, it is worth
considering once again how the mainstream media abetted the process of
news and whether an all-encompassing media council of experts chosen by
democratically elected bodies would not be better than a tinkering with
problem under pressure from the government or newspaper barons. Also,
of the hour is media commission --- a la
the first and second press commissions. Researches in the