Paid news: The cancer in the Indian media

The Hindu stands out as one of the few main-stream media prepared to discuss the insidious and increasing trend towards “paid news” in Indian newspapers and on the multiplicity of Indian TV channels fighting for advertising revenue. The TV “news” channels abandoned the rigour of traditional journalism some time ago and are mainly in the business of manufacturing or sensationalising news or of presenting “paid news”. TV anchors are chosen on their ability to rant and programmes are dominated by

  • instant “breaking” news – much of it manufactured – or
  • revelations of scams filmed by “secret” cameras – but usually provoked, or
  • so-called chat shows and panel discussions where  only antagonistic participation is permitted (and the more one can screech over the other the more likely it is to be re-invited to participate – paid of course).

The Hindu writes:

In newspapers and TV channels, choking with stories on corruption, this is the one story you are the least likely to see. The media are their own worst censors when it comes to reporting on ‘Paid News.’

Just before the 2009 Assembly elections in Maharashtra, a large newspaper group in the State brought its editors together for a meeting in Pune. Generally, it was agreed, winning a seat in the State legislature would cost Rs. 3 crore to Rs. 5 crore. ($700,000 to $1.1 million). ….. If there’s that kind of money being spent, said the cash-box boys, we should get a decent share of it. What, after all, is election expenditure but campaign and propaganda expenses? Detailed plans for ‘pay-to-print’ were soon under way in one of the biggest media groups in the State. ……

Paid news comes in many packages: pre-paid, post-paid and yet-to-be-paid, for instance. There are also deluxe tariffs and aam aadmi tariffs, the former in crores (10s of millions), the latter in lakhs (100,000’s). Sadly, these media groups met, even exceeded, their targets.

But it’s not just during elections that paid news or its Euclidian variants occur. The crazy saturation coverage of Davos in some channels was not caused by breathless public interest or media curiosity. It had a lot to do with ‘partnerships’ and corporate subsidies the public can’t see, and won’t be allowed to see. Some channels sent out ‘rules’ to their journalists of things that just had to be done. Rules with no particular journalistic rationale at all. …..

It is a scam worth more millions than anyone can accurately estimate. Most other institutions of Indian democracy and regulatory structures have tried doing something about it. But in the free media, there was a costly silence…..

So the ECI, Parliament, SEBI and top political leaders have all contributed to the fight against the slaughter of honest journalism. Even the spineless PCI did so, before deserting ship. But in the media there is near-total silence. True, there are the exceptions. And the fact that all those journalists went public at those meetings shows how deep their resentment runs. But institutionally, the media’s failure is huge and, if not reversed, will extract a terrible price. The corporate media have censored the Paid News story, browbeaten their own journalists and cheated the public of information it has every right and need to know.

Read the entire article.

Related: India’s Election Commission To Address It’s Paid News Problem

Paid news syndrome is a full blown cancer in Indian Media

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