The standing committee bats for content
regulation by empowered mechanism
In a comprehensive
100-page report covering issues across the print and electronic media
landscape, a parliamentary standing committee has documented the trend of ‘paid
news’ in its various forms and recommended content regulation by an empowered
mechanism. It has also strongly criticised the Ministry of Information and
Broadcasting (I&B) for “failing to discharge its responsibility”.
The Standing Committee on
Information Technology (IT) began examining the issue of ‘paid news’ in 2010.
Three years later, it has concluded that the “dangerous trend of presenting
[paid-for] information as news content” has spread at a remarkable pace in
sections of the media. ‘Paid news’ has had a “serious and damaging impact” on
innocent audiences; undermines democratic practices; affects markets, industry
and health; is a tax fraud; and a question of ethics.
First noticed in the 2004
general elections, the practice of ‘paid news’ became more widespread in 2009.
During the 2012 Gujarat elections, a Press Council of India sub-committee found
444 suspected cases of ‘paid news’, with 61 candidates admitting they had paid
up. The committee said it was not merely an “election-time phenomenon”, but
“everyday and prolific”, and went beyond the corruption of individual
The practice, according
to the committee, assumed different forms — gifts, sponsored travels, direct or
indirect payment of money, indirect blackmailing by media houses and,
increasingly, award ceremonies by media houses where regular advertisers are
awarded. The parliamentary panel warned that this would assume “gigantic
proportions” if not tackled immediately.
In a strong indictment of
the I&B Ministry, the panel said it was “disconcerting” that the Ministry
had not done “anything substantial” to check the “menace” of paid news, and
demanded action in the next six months.
The Ministry should take
steps to ensure there was a “clear demarcation” between what constituted
advertisements and what, news. While accepting that it was difficult to
establish violations because of clandestine transactions, the committee urged
the Ministry to put forward innovative solutions to consider and establish
“circumstantial evidence”. It also recommended that a team of experts be set up
to track the coverage pattern and that the regulatory body swing into action in
case of any “unusualness”.
The committee also noted
the “pathetic working conditions” of significant sections in the media,
disapproved of the media’s tendency to “hire and fire”, and noted that the
contract employment should not be used for “attraction and allurement”.
On the ‘Jindal versus
Zee’ case, the committee deplored the Ministry’s “indecisiveness” and urged it
to take immediate action based on the recommendations of the Inter-Ministerial
But in its most
controversial remarks, the committee has dismissed self-regulation as “an
eyewash”, and recommended that a statutory body such as the Media Council be
set up to look at “media contents in both print and electronic media” with
powers to take “strong actions”. Alternatively, the Press Council could be
revamped in case of print journalism and a separate statutory body be set for
the electronic media. It called for strengthening election laws and empowering
the Election Commission and asked the I&B Ministry to act swiftly on issues
of cross-media ownership.
Responding to the
criticism, I&B Minister Manish Tewari toldThe Hindu:
“I have not seen the report yet, but we hold the observations of the Standing
Committee in high esteem. We will peruse it closely, identify what is
actionable, and build a broad-based consensus to implement the actionable
Monitoring telephone conversations of journalists, sting operations on media houses, giving complete access to internal storage of data by channels to regulators, permission to conduct sudden searches and raids in media houses. Listing out the transgressions of the Emergency? No. These are just some of the remedies that find mention in the Standing Committee on Information and Technology’s report on Issues Related to Paid News which was tabled before the Parliament, last month.
The over 100-page report documents instances of widespread prevalence of paid news and the involvement of journalists, managements, stringers , corporate houses and politicians in institutionalising this practice. The Chairman of the committee, Rao Inderjit Singh, a Congress MP says “in view of the wide ramifications of the subject and considering the need for wider consultation” the committee was undertaking the issue of paid news.
How come there’s been no Arnab shaking a copy of the report on The News Hour or a We The People with Barkha and a motley crew of panelists discussing the larger implications of the report? For some reason, the mainstream media has decided to ignore the report. It’s like a see no evil, hear no evil and write no evil reaction to the report. The Hindu is one of the few who broke from ranks and wrote an article on the report.
So what is in this report that shall not be spoken of? The report clearly states that self-regulation hasn’t worked for the media. The media, according to the report, needs an independent regulator – who will be assisted by the government- to function transparently.
In short, the report makes the following observations:
The trend of presenting the advertising content that is paid for as news “is a serious and damaging fraud on the innocent audiences/readers/viewers/public”.
Paid news is a result of a “clandestine” nexus between managements or journalists, politicians and corporates.
Award ceremonies are being sponsored by some media houses wherein industrialists/professionals/personalities who are the sponsors/regular advertisers for their media houses are awarded and this is a regular occurrence.
Imposition of contract system of employment on journalists is behind rising cases of paid news.
Decisive role of “Editors of the Media” have been dampened by the interference of the marketing departments and owners of the media houses.
Paid News ‟mocks the electoral process, often reducing it to farce”. It is a huge hindrance in conducting free and fair polls.
The report also comments on business anchors “influencing the Stock Market with their coverage” and how journalists resort to “blackmailing the contesting candidates” by saying they will “boycott publishing about them or deliberately spread news against them if not paid”.
The report doesn’t spare the I&B Ministry either. And states that the Ministry hasn’t done “anything substantial” to effectively stem paid news.
While the Committee does identify the various kinds of Paid News avenues being explored and indulged in by the media, the report only names small regional channels and publications as offenders. The only major media house which finds a mention in the report is the proprietor of The Times of India -Bennett, Coleman & Company Limited. Quoting the PCI’s Sub-Committee Report on Paid News, the report makes the following observation on BCCL.
“In the 1980s…the rules of the Indian media game began to change. Besides initiating cut-throat cover-price competition, marketing was used creatively to make Bennett, Coleman Company Limited (BCCL) one of the most profitable media conglomerates in the country… The media phenomenon that has caused considerable outrage of late has been BCCL’s 2003 decision to start a ‘paid content’ service called Medianet, which, for a price, openly offers to send journalists to cover product launches or personality-related events. Besides Medianet, BCCL devised another innovative ‘marketing and PR strategy’. The Private Treaties’ scheme pioneered in the Indian media by BCCL involves giving advertising space to private corporate entities/advertisers in exchange for equity investment – the company officially denies that it also provides favourable editorial coverage to its ‘private treaty’ clients and/or blacks out adverse comment against its clients.”
The Standing Committee of Stating the Obvious could do with reading The New Yorker. They would have saved themselves the trouble of writing these few paragraphs by simply giving a link to Ken Auletta’s article on the brothers Jain. As we already know, the Jains “have been dismantling the wall between the newsroom and the sales department. At The Times of India, for example, celebrities and advertisers pay the paper to have its reporters write advertorials about their brands in its supplementary sections; the newspaper enters into private-treaty agreements with some advertisers, accepting equity in the advertisers’ firms as partial payment. These innovations have boosted the paper’s profits, and are slowly permeating the Indian newspaper industry. Critics point to a decline in journalistic quality, especially amongst high-circulation newspapers”.
Tell us something new. We didn’t need a Standing Committee to make this discovery.
Who are the other offenders?
It would appear that in the eyes of the Standing Committee, no other major media house is indulging in paid news. Also, it seems there is only one state which is the root of all paid news evil. That state being Gujarat – finding mention 17 times in the report. The report names Gujarati publications such as Sandesh and Gujarat Samachar as having indulged in presenting biased news during the time of Assembly Elections in December, 2012. It says, “The Committee are startled with the revelation of PCI’s fact finding team on Gujarat Election (2012) wherein they have cited 126 confirmed cases of Paid News with 61 candidates in the poll fray admitting to have paid for such news”. The report cites so many cases from Gujarat, you wouldn’t be mistaken for thinking that the state is the paid news capital of the country.
The experts who were called to depose before the standing committee as witnesses and for giving suggestions were The Hindu Rural Affairs editor -P Sainath, Prasar Bharati CEO – Jawahar Sircar, Medianama editor – Nikhil Pahwa, former Press Council of India member –Paranjoy Guha Thakurta, President of India Journalist Union – SN Sinha, the PCI chairperson, former election commissioners and National Broadcast Association.
What about some representation from the 414 news and currently affairs channels which the Committee wants to put under a regulatory regime? Newslaundry spoke to Pahwa and Thakurta and asked them on what basis they were selected to give recommendations to the committee. As Thakurta said, “I have no idea why they called me and didn’t call Rajdeep”.
Maybe the media chose not to talk about the report as a quid pro quo for the committee not bothering to invite editors of major media houses to depose and state their points of view. Or maybe, the report has fallen on a convenient media blind spot. Hindi and English channels and most newspapers have not commented on the findings and recommendations of the report, which could well be the foundation of a future legislation on media regulation. By not reporting on the matter, the media seems to be reiterating the observation made by the Committee that the media cannot self-regulate.
The report needs to be examined for what it is suggesting – a regulatory body directly functioning under the government. According to Guha Thakurta, placing the media under a regulatory body is the way forward. Speaking to Newslaundry, he said, “In an ideal world, self-regulation could be an option. But the media industry is not an ideal world. You need regulation to blacklist the black sheep.”
Medianama editor Nikhil Pawha disagrees. Pawha says that the lesser the involvement of the government in regulatory matters the better it is. According to him, “My recommendations to the committee have nothing to do with regulation but on how media houses can take simple steps to reveal their ownership patterns and thus maintain transparency”. He suggests that all media houses “must maintain a quarterly list of advertisers that have contributed more than a predetermined amount (say 5%) of the company’s advertising revenues and make the data available on their websites”. He also recommends prior disclosure of advertisers on news items related to those who contribute more than 5% shareholding or that advertiser’s competitors.
Pahwa also makes some practical recommendations on disclosure of ownership patterns. He says, “Any trading done by a journalist, holding shares in a news organisation or his/her immediate family during each financial quarter must be open to public scrutiny…Business relationships of decision makers (Owners, Publisher/CEO, Business Heads, Editor-in-Chief, Managing and Executive Editors) needs to be disclosed quarterly”. On the issue of private treaties he says, “All Private Treaties and other investments from media companies, and the amount of stake acquired must be disclosed to the Ministry of Information and Broadcasting”.
Pahwa makes a strong case for why the media should continue to remain self-regulated while putting in check and balances on its own without being prodded. He is a prime example of how new media is making efforts to ensure accountability in the media fraternity while fiercely protecting its independence.
Do our silent media houses know that the government has a state-of-art Electronic Media Monitoring Centre (EMMC) to monitor and record channels on a 24×7 basis? Over 300 channels are simultaneously under the government’s watch. Which explains the slew of media advisories which are sent out by the government – most of which our media channels don’t like to talk of. One would think that the media would have paid more attention to this report. Maybe even debated, discussed and dissected it as strongly and vociferously as they do every move of Rahul Gandhi, Narendra Modi and not to forget Aishwarya Bachchan’s baby.
http://www.ptinews.com/aboutpti/jobs.aspx has the following announcement: PTI is looking for experienced, dynamic and result oriented journalists for its English service. Journalists with proven skills are required for the following posts, most of them in Delhi.
1. News Coordinators
Must have at least 6 years’ experience in mainline English media in editing and handling news desk operations. They will be required to coordinate news coverage with outstation PTI bureaux. Age not more than 35 years.
2. Copy Editors/Rewrite persons
Must have at least 5 years’ experience in mainline English media. Proficiency in English language and good re-writing skills are a must. Age not more than 33 years.
3. Senior Correspondents / Reporters
Must have at least 5 years’ experience of which minimum 4 years in field reporting in mainline English media. Age not more than 35 years.
4. Probationary Journalists
Candidates should have a minimum of two years’ experience in mainline journalism. Age not over 25 years.
Minimum qualification for the above posts is a degree/diploma in journalism with minimum 50% marks. Candidates with news agency background will be given preference. Application forms can be downloaded from PTI website www.ptinews.com. Filled up forms should be e-mailed highlighting ‘Post applied for’ to email@example.com by June 18, 2013. General Manager (Administration) The Press Trust of India, PTI Building, 4, Parliament Street, New Delhi-110001
Brahma Chellaney exposed the killings of young unarmed Sikh youths for a foreign news agency, and faced severe government harassment
In 1984, Brahma Chellaney was a 27-year old correspondent for the wire service,Associated Press. He had managed to defy the media blackout in the summer of 1984 to stay on in Amritsar, becoming the only foreign correspondent to cover Operation Blue Star.
His story, front-paged in major international publications like The Times of London on June 14 that year, reported that over 1200 people — militants, civilians and security personnel — had died during the operation. This was double the official figures. Mr. Chellaney also highlighted the ‘presence of sophisticated weapons’ in the arsenal of the militants.
But the second element which angered the establishment was the claim in the report that ‘several’ young Sikhs had been shot, with their hands tied behind their backs. The report quoted medical sources, who had conducted the post-mortem.
Mr. Chellaney’s report was used only in the foreign press, and AP claimed that given the censorship, it had taken steps to ensure that the report did not appear in Indian media. Similar reports were to be published in India Today and the Indian Express, among others, in the following weeks and months.
But the government was furious. It slammed preliminary charges of ‘sedition, inciting communal discord and hatred, and violating press censorship’ on Mr. Chellaney. The police issued a warrant, searched his home, and visited AP offices. His passport was impounded, and press credentials not renewed. The case went to the Supreme Court, which instructed the police not to arrest him but asked Mr. Chellaney to cooperate in the investigations. He was to remain on temporary bail through the period, but was subjected to over 35 hours of interrogation. He was pressured to reveal his sources, which he refused to do, citing journalistic ethics and the constitutional guarantee of freedom of the press.
There was a backlash, both domestically and internationally. The AP Managing Editors Association asked the government to ‘cease all proceedings, underway and contemplated’ against their correspondent, adding responsible Indian officials had corroborated the news dispatches. In an editorial, ‘Truth on Trial’, in October that year, The New York Times said Mr. Chellaney had ‘provoked displeasure by doing his job too well’, and what was at issue was not just ‘censorship, but vindictiveness’. The International Federation of Journalists (IFJ) protested the ‘continued harassment’ of Mr. Chellaney.
In September 1985, the government finally dropped the charges, and renewed Mr. Chellaney’s passport and press credentials. The New York Times lauded the decision, saying then Prime Minister Rajiv Gandhi had written the ‘right ending’ to the case where Mr. Chellaney’s only offenses were ‘enterprise and accuracy’. Fresh revelations in a new documentary have only vindicated his story. He was travelling outside the country and did not offer comments on how he looked back at the episode, 29 years later.
Mr. Chellaney moved on from journalism to academia, and is now a well-known strategic affairs analyst.
The School of Media and Cultural Studies , Tata Institute of Social Sciences announces two fellowships for film-makers and media practitioners at an early stage of their career. The fellowships are designed to provide the resources and environment for films, websites, multi-media artefacts and other audio-visual media documentation projects that are innovative, relevant and contribute to the growing body of documentary, audio-visual and new media work in India. The fellowships are supported by a grant from the Jamsetji Tata Trust.
Each fellowship consists of:
* A stipend of Rs. 25,000 per month for a maximum period of eight months. * The provision of in-house HDV video editing facilities on the Mumbai campus if required. * Reimbursement of actuals of production expenses on the basis of a pre-approved budget. Maximum budgetary allotment for production is Rs. 2.50 lakhs.
In order to be considered for the fellowship applicants are required to provide:
A detailed curriculum vitae.
Up to two non-returnable samples of work on DVDs.
An essay outlining the media proposal in not more than 2000 words. This essay should include: a working title for the media project, language, the central theme of the media project, approach to the content and structure, possible visual segments/ treatment and plan for dissemination/synergy with ongoing work being done by others in the area.
A production schedule with a detailed time frame for: research and script/concept, documentation, first cut/ version, final product and submission of all deliverables.
A budget for other production expenses (e.g. travel, field expenses, payments to other professionals etc.). Please note that the fellowship does not support any infrastructural costs such as setting up of an office, buying of equipment, or per diem costs.
Names and contact details of two referees, preferably from the field of media, whom we will contact for a reference if needed.
The fellowship is open to all Indian nationals. An early career media practitioner is defined as someone who has completed her/his media education not more than 5 years ago. In case of applicants without a media degree, they should have executed not more than 5 projects. Two fellowships are available based on the quality of applications. One fellowship is open and the other fellowship will be based in the North-East Region of India. Interviews for both the fellowships will be held on the Mumbai campus of TISS. Short-listed candidates will have to come for an interview on July 15, 2013.
Applicants will be notified of selection two to three weeks after the interviews. The fellowship period is between December 1, 2013 and July 31, 2014.
Travel will be reimbursed for three tier non-AC train fare against production of valid tickets. All proposals must be submitted as hard copies and signed by the media practitioner. All envelopes should be labelled Early Career Fellowship- Open or North-East, as relevant.
Last date for receipt of applications is June 25, 2013. Short-listed candidates called for interview will be notified of their selection by July 1, 2013.
Terms of the fellowship
1. Selected fellows will be paid their fellowship amount on a monthly basis and for production expenses in instalments as per the timeline and production of the deliverables at each stage. The proposed time-line is indicated below:
December 2013– January 2014: Release of initial installment of 20% of the budget for research and reccee. Submission of shooting script/detailed concept by last week of January 2014.
February- April 2014: Release of second installment of 30% on approval of shooting script/detailed concept. Documentation, design and work on first draft. Submission of first draft at the end of April 2014.
May- July 2014: Release of third installment of 30% after approval of first draft, Finalisation of project.
Release of fourth and final installment of 20% on approval of final cut of the project and submission of final deliverables by July 31, 2014.
2. The material generated and final product will have to be archived adequately by the fellow in the Digital Archive of the School. However, the fellow is free to use the material generated for other purposes, keeping the School informed of the same. The copyright will be held jointly by the fellow and the School. The film/ website/ new media artefact will be disseminated/hosted by the School. In the case of a film, the fellow may also distribute the film. The School will be cited in the credits as the Producer of the film and the fellow will be cited as Director of the said film.
3. The fellow is expected to adhere to the time schedule s/he proposes. Any changes should be notified and approved in advance.
4. There will be a commissioning editor and an advisory committee for each project. S/he is expected to keep in touch with the commissioning editor(s)/ advisory committee on a regular basis and discuss and share her/his work at every stage, as indicated in the timeline above.
5. Fellows are expected to begin work by December 2013 and complete their work by the end of July 2014.
School of Media and Cultural Studies Tata Institute of Social Sciences VN Purav Marg, Deonar, Mumbai 400 088, India Phone: +91 22 2552 5660 and 5661 Website: www.smcs.tiss.edu
I worked as a professional journalist for over three decades. I began as a sub-editor with Pune’s daily Sakaal (1969-70) and worked with United News of India (1971-87), The Indian Post (1987-90) and The Observer of Business and Politics (1991-2000). I shifted to academics in 2001 as Professor and Head, Department of Communication and Journalism (DoCJ), University of Pune. My doctoral thesis and later UGC-funded study was on web editions of Indian Newspapers. After retirement in 2007, I was at the Mudra Institute of Communications Research, Ahmedabad, for a year. Here we studied viewers of Aastha channel’s live telecast of Swami Ramdev Baba, Use of Internet for Loksabha elections, and features of mobile handsets. I have been associated also with University of Mumbai, University of Calcutta, North Maharashtra University, and Indira Gandhi National Open University. I became Adjunct Faculty and Research Co-coordinator at FLAME School of Communication, Pune, in December 2009. I am an adjunct faculty also at DoCJ, University of Mumbai. Here I am Principal Investigator of UGC-funded Major Research Project on Language of English Newspapers of India.