Monday, December 21, 2009

This post was paid for...

There has been endless conjecture about the rampant increase in ‘Paid For’ news stories across the media, from the top dailies to the language press all the way down the line. There is nothing wrong with a newspaper or magazine or news channel taking a political line or choosing to support one of the Ambani brothers over the other. That is an editorial decision. But even those are rarely free. First things first, this phenomenon is not restricted to only print and much like print, the rot of ‘Paid For’ news in TV stretches all the way to the top. And unlike some aspects of print, you have no clue that you’re watching a ‘sponsored’ show on TV where the channel has zilch edit control. But that isn’t saying that it isn’t bad in print – like a piece on Ponytail’s book in a supplement (or three) today – so sign that was a paid piece is there?
It comes down to a couple of things. The first is the lack of disclosure – unlike newspapers and magazines, TV channels do not have to display a Form VI showing ownership – many language news channels are biased by their very ownership – Sakshi for example. Now, the casual viewer will hardly have a clue – though in the case of Sakshi you do know that Jagan Reddy owns it by the incessant coverage of everything YSR and Jagan. The second is that, and this problem is there is newspapers as well, a lack of disclosure about political affiliations of the owners. There is a nexus between news proprietors and the editorial, everyone knows that, the media in India is hardly free, so if the owner of a news organization sits as a Member of Parliament or even a Member of Legislative Assembly, that has to be disclosed. The reader needs to know that the proprietor of the Hindustan Times sits as a Congress MP in the Rajya Sabha, or that the proprietor of Sun TV’s brother is an Union Minister.
The second aspect is quite simply the lack of teeth. Frankly, the Press Council of India (PCI) is a toothless body populated by old, irrelevant retired journalists and retired judges who look to Liberhan as a role-model. Also, the PCI does not control television news. There needs to be a drastic change in the way the media is policed. And believe me, the media needs policing, because it is just spreading all sorts of wild and whacky canards along with news of dubious quality. The problem is that these old, retired folks only end up complaining about the amount of skin shown. Not the news.
The relatively easy access to technology over the past decade has led to a massive explosion in the number of news channels and print publications. The PCI has not kept up. The lack of a regulatory body has been exploited by proprietors. Every single time a suggestion of a regulatory body is made by the government, it is seen as censorship by the media, in no small part due to the fact that any proposal is usually drafted by a control-obsessed bureaucrat. But there has to be a regulator, not a toothless one like the PCI or the Advertising Standards Council of India (ASCI). Actually, between the PCI and the ASCI you would be hard-pressed to find a worse regulator. And Rajeev Chandrashekhar is complaining about TRAI (not that I’m saying they’re good, but compared to these two!).
Any new regulatory body for the media would need to take in the fact that there has been a technology explosion over the years and have to get rid of the tendency to muzzle the media that all governments have. Yet, there should be rules against false news (watch Hindi news channels on dubious science) or against news that incites (Sakshi?) and ‘Paid For’ news (everyone). Any body would have to take into account multimedia – the fact that maybe in five years time we won’t be consuming news through either TV or print. Like other regulators it should also look into what is being taught in courses that train young professionals.
And to be successful it must be comprised not of retired old fogeys, but should include younger editors, and editors of publications that matter, like a Jojo for example. Proprietors need to be brought in as well – because there are commercial interests in news – people like Raghav and/or Kalanidhi Maran know that better than anyone else. We do not live in a socialist age, junkets are a fact of life. And there should also be people from society –and government. The fact remains that the news is not equal, farmers might starve and buses could crash in far-flung parts of India but urban newspapers, even language ones will still publish pictures of Jamie Jungers, one of Tiger’s alleged mistresses in a bikini.
Every stakeholder from the government which wants to get news out, law enforcement, journalists themselves, proprietors and society needs to be involved. And this has to be done in a country of 1.1 billion people over several (what is it today? 30 proposed or 32 proposed?) states, each with a different agenda and different problems. The problems journalists are facing in Maoist-areas in central India are massive.
See if we in the media are serious about dealing with the ‘menace’ of ‘Paid News’ we have to go beyond soul-searching in articles and pointing fingers at each other. We need to deal with it. Self-regulation has failed and the government regulator is a joke. Either we deal with it, or as the coming wave of data access comes along, the media in India, much like the media in the west will face declining numbers as people move away to more reliable sources, like a kid with a cell-phone camera.
Anyway, comment with your thoughts or lack of...


Anonymous said...

Media exists because news needs to be aggregated otherwise just become a lot of noise from everywhere. That the aggregators then use it for propaganda is something that really can't be controlled. Either the individual will have to aggregate from different sources and sift through the propaganda or some entity will do it and inevitably get into the 'paid' business. The solution can be only in having access to and free reign of 'aggregators' of all kind with differing agenda all allowed to exist together.

| Balu | said...

Reminds me of 'Women against lazy stubble' on a news channel.. heights of WTFness. If you ask me, paid for news is not okay in certain sectors like business, politics etc. But that's where all the money is right?

Nikhil said...

How can a ruling party whose representatives (allegedly) have paid for news, regulate it in a free & fair manner? Government regulation is clearly not the solution.

Will advertisers who pay for coverage walk away from those pubilcations, if the word gets out that news was paid for? Unlikely.

I think consumers will shape how this evolves...but the question is - where will they go? Where are the reliable general news publications on the web...only facsimiles of print. Where, for that matter, is India's HuffPo, or Politifact? Not a mass market yet, K.

More than product placement, I'm concerned about political coverage, which may have impacted the recent Lok Sabha results, as well as coverage of public listed companies.

Anonymous said...

No redemption, or coming back from this path I think.
Media is in too deep to get out and smell nice again.

Anonymous said...

As usual you are brilliant to pin point the malady. But why this concern I mean has anyone got guts to forgo the lifestyle he is enjoying for some unrewarding truth? Media in this market driven environment is in business of creating ‘consent’. It doesn’t matter for whom this ‘consent’ is created. There remains no difference between news and advertisements today because news is an appendage to the advertisement (?). If TOI awakens to some Mandu girl’s pitiful existence on the budget day coverage it is only to maintain the false propaganda of objectivity and humanistic element, because even a falsehood has to swear of truth for existence. Editors have long started prostituting for this and that and the all powerful juggernaut globalisation is at pinnacle of its glory. All hypocritical concerns should be shunned and truth should be accepted ‘as it is’

polittikus said...

Media exists because news needs to be aggregated otherwise just become a lot of noise from everywhere... Anyway, whow many channels tv are in india???

Haresh said...

Readers/Viewers have to be more aware. That's the best solution, I guess.

Anonymous said...

Fuck it man, all the honchos are taking money. U pay 25 lacks, Undie TV's Roy will interview you, you pay 15 - Walk the talk.

Same is the case with every one, and Rajdeep today said he will campaign against "paid news"!


Anonymous said...

Rajdeep Sardesai re-elected as Editors Guild prez, to campaign against 'paid' news

Is it a joke?

Anonymous said...

Why this holier that thou attitude?
flashback a hundred 70 odd years ago. Papers in India were nothing but commercial rags. With nothing but listings of which ship has docked and what is available in it.

How about a little earlier 220 odd years ago. The Bengal Gazette was nothing but a slander rag.

How about something more recent? The Pullitzer prize was named after a person who (along with Hearst) pretty much invented Yellow Journalism. Not quite paid for journalism, but who was checking.

Something even closer. 1948. The Hindu didn't have the news of MKG assasination because the front page only had ads. Ironic?

All the above aside. News is a business. Unless the government is willing to give tax breaks and other incentives in lieu of control. I don't think this debate is headed anywhere. If that happens, we may as well watch Doordarshan. Our desi nazi party opened up the newspaper sector because they couldn't control the big players. So no glory there either.

There are too many vested interests with too many backs to scratch.



Chirag said...

How much money have you made with your blog?

If you ran Amazon ads instead. Would you make more money? If you made more money. Would you write more stories that would make you more money?

I wrote a series of blog posts on using the Amazon Kindle in India. Guess what? I made more money in one month than I had with Google Adsense in nearly 10 years.

I couldn't have made that money if the users were not looking for that information. Could I?

So! the moral of the story is...


Anonymous said...

If rajdeep sardesai can indeed get other spineless Editors to convince their proprietors to stop being paid for news, then WOW! No, its not Rajdeep's responsibility alone, but then how many Mrinal Pande's are there in India, who will walk out cos the publication's editorial integrity has been compromised? Wonder how the business side of Network 18 (and IBN-7 : per Outlook's cover story,IBN-7 is no better) will react.

John Thomas said...

Read the Editors' Guild statement on the setting up of an ethics committee and proposed action on paid news and private treaties.

What's in a name? said...

The Editor's Guild Seems to have come-up with some sort of "ethics commitee".

A key issue that the media ignores is that they do-not engage with their most important stakeholder - their readers and viewers.

Self-regulation is beginning to look like an impossible ask. Not good for the common citizen.

Horn Please!! said...

Whatever. If you want credibility, you will have to get out and go walkabout, regardless of the media and/or medium used. Much of journalism is now a 9-5 job from behind a keyboard and occasional visits to a mall, the taxi driver is where all the contact stories come from, and the rest is PR.

Truly, kid with camera on phone, a friend who blogs, another one who goes on social networking sites, notch up to tv and then hit the print media.

So what else is new?

Anonymous said...

There's no point reading the editor's guild statement or document. Hamam main sab nange hai. All the channels discuss about democracy and bringing change in politics in their cosy studios and take money from the political parties/politicians to promote their cause.

The formation of some sort of ethics committee is just sham. And Rajdeep should first think of airing the real tapes of cash for vote scam. Wonder why IBN could not air the real one. Charity begins at home...