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India's paid news report

Oct 17, 2011

The recent report on paid news by Press Council of India recommends that representation of the People Act, 1951, should be amended to make the practice of paid news a punishable electoral malpractice.

The Report on paid news in India

Published by: Press Council of India

The Report defines paid news as Any news or analysis appearing in any media (Print & Electronic) for a price in cash or kind as consideration.

The Report records that “Sections of the media in India have willingly become participants and players in such practices that contribute to the growing use of money power in politics which undermines democratic processes and norms – while hypocritically pretending to occupy a high moral ground. This has not merely undermined democracy in India but also tarnished the country’s reputation.”

Key observations

The election time paid news phenomenon has three dimensions.

One, the reader or the viewer does not get a correct picture of the personality or performance of the candidate in whose favour or against he decides to cast his vote. This destroys the very essence of the democracy.

Two, contesting candidates perhaps do not show it in their election expense account thereby violating the Conduct of Election Rules, 1961, framed by the Election Commission of India under the Representation of the People Act, 1951.

Third, those newspapers and television channels which received money in cash but did not disclose it in their official statements of accounts, have violated the Companies Act, 1956, as well as the Income Tax Act, 1961, besides other laws.

It was felt that there should be a clear distinction drawn between the managements and editorial staff in media companies and that the independence of the editor should be maintained and safeguarded.
The Election Commission of India should set up a special cell to receive complaints about ‘paid news’ in the run-up to the conduct of elections and initiate a process through which expeditious action could be taken on the basis of such complaints.

Paid news and other dishonest practices have eroded the credibility of mass media in India: only 38% of Indians trust radio and television, while only 40% trust news in newspapers.

There should be a debate among all concerned stakeholders on whether a directive of the Supreme Court of India that enjoins television channels to stop broadcasting campaign-related information on candidates and political parties 48 hours before elections take place should be extended to the print medium since such a restriction does not apply to this section of media at present. 

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