Govt cannot check paid news: Jaitley

'Lack of adequate financial model challenge for media'

Govt cannot check paid news: Jaitley

Information and Broadcasting Minister Arun Jaitley on Thursday suggested that the government cannot check publication or airing of paid news in media as the Supreme Court a decade and a half ago held that “commercial speech” was also “free speech”.

The minister was delivering the inaugural address of a seminar, organised here to explore possibility of setting up a special university for mass combination and media studies.

“Is there a way we can check it (paid news) or the Broadcasting Content Complaints Council (BCCC) can check it? I have very serious doubts. A decade and a half ago, the Supreme Court in a judgment decided that commercial speech is also free speech.

“So those who market paid news might find this interpretation of the Supreme Court coming to their aid if the BCCC were to proceed against paid news because that is commercial speech,” Jaitley said.

The apex court’s judgment was in the context of advertising, he added.

The Union minister said absence of an “adequate financial model” in electronic media was leading to many challenges as the cost of distribution was much higher than the cost of preparation of content.

When the cost of distribution is so high, there is an obvious compromise on the cost of content as the quantum of advertising available is almost stagnant or maybe growing marginally. As a result, the channels begin competing for eyeballs and resort to various means including creating “hype” and “shrill debates and campaigns”, he said.

The instances of paid news, which are more prevalent during elections, are also the result of the lack of an “adequate financial model” in media houses, he added.

Despite all the shrill debates and sensational news in media, the readers of the newspaper and viewers of the news channels look for something which are “more objective” and “closer to reality”, the minister noted.

“At the end of the day, viewers and readers are king. Today, they are groping in the dark to find news closer to reality. I think, there is an opportunity for conventionalists to hit back. Readers are looking for objective news. The space for conventional news is again going to emerge rather than anchor driven news,” he said.

The minister said there was need for trained persons in media.

“When a journalist is on his feet, either he stays grounded completely and sticks to his kind of reporting or he gets swayed that some people are overtaking him and, therefore, he has to outdo them. And that kind of training, I don’t know, if a university can probably provide to them,” he said.

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