GCA meet discusses 'paid news'

Just one MLA in Uttar Pradesh (UP) has been disqualified by the Election Commission so far in the entire nation, while no media organisation has been penalised, for ‘paid news’, said former editor of Hindustan Times Bharat Bushan during the second day of the 11th GCA international conference, here, on Friday.

He was speaking during a session on ‘The Obnoxious growth of paid news... Is there a way to end it?’, organised as a part of the conference.

Pointing out that Umlesh Yadav, an MLA of Rashtriya Parivartan Dal, who was elected from Bisauli in April 2007, was disqualified in 2011 for incorrect statement of election expenditure incurred on ‘news items’ in two Hindi dailies, he said, several economic and competition-driven factors have resulted in the ‘paid news syndrome’.

“Even though paid news is in existence since a long time, it entered political reporting only after the 2008 recession. The 2009 general election opened the doors for a lucrative way to generate revenue. Media houses were under pressure to explore new avenues for revenue generation since the price war of newspapers began in 1993-94. Media content had to be provided at highly discounted prices, following the price war.

However, there is only a suspicion that some media houses have been publishing ‘paid news’, there is no concrete evidence. Media cries for transparency in all sectors, but will it come under the Right to Information Act? Despite all this, some media organisations still command credibility,” Bushan said.

While columnist Sabha Naqvi likened ‘paid news’ to match-fixing in cricket, founder of Suchitra School of Cinema and Dramatic Arts Prakash Belawadi said, as most of the small newspapers depend on government advertisements for survival, they are at the risk of publishing ‘paid news’. Belawadi questioned, when we sell a newspaper, that actually costs Rs 15 to 20, at a price of Rs 3 to 5, is that not ‘paid news’?

Editorial Advisor to TV 9 Ramakrishna Upadhya went to the extent of suggesting that the newspapers should be sold at the cost price to publish reliable news. “If a person can buy a cup of coffee for Rs 20 to 30, can he not buy a newspaper for Rs 15?, he asked.

The panellists, largely, were of the opinion that the title of the session should have been ‘The Ubiquitous...’ instead of ‘The Obnoxious growth...’ as media and business cannot be separated in this globalised world. “The only way out is self-regulation. However, there is no talk on regulating the social media, and the digital media in the larger sense,” they pointed out.

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