After the fifteenth general elections to the Lok Sabha, in April-May 2009, one disturbing phenomenon of “paid news” came to fore, which entails payment by aspirant candidates to representatives of media companies for favourable coverage.
The inherent danger is that the reader of the publication or the viewer of the television programme fails to distinguish, if what comes to them is essentially an advertisement or independently produced news content. This is blatant corruption, undermining of democracy, fudging with facts and figures, threatening the transparency and ultimately exploiting the vulnerability of viewers/readers. This concept of “paid news” is not merely corruptive collusion of individual journalists and media companies, but with realization of its productive potential is has become all pervasive, structured and highly organized ‘crime’. Even, the Press Council of India has expressed serious concern over the issue. It has immediate twofold ramification, one it jeopardizes the functioning of an independent media in the country and second, it threatens the working of Indian democracy by influencing free and fair elections.
The press works on the principle of right to inform because the public has right to know. It is indubitable that the right of the public to accurate information must be protected. The judgment of a common person is highly influenced by what they see and hear. Unless explicitly mentioned, they take on the face value of news content. This vulnerability of the masses, in a country where still there is limited dexterity in deciphering the falsehood, is exploited in an organized manner. Does not that come under the ambit of crime? Who must be blamed when there is wrong choice of candidates in husting, due to misinformation, which would be reflected finally in the nation’s growth and development. Is just describing the “paid news” as unethical, unfair and an infringement of the right of journalists to report freely, enough. When this trend of “planting” information and views, in lieu of favours in kind and cash, has widespread and perilous consequence to the sovereignty of nation, then why not come out with some stringent act to penalize heavily on the colluding perpetrators.
I am wondering if the issue dies down its unnatural death, after some discussions in electronic media and articles in print. The agony is that to keep alive the issue we need the assistance of the team, which is actually neck deep into this lucrative trade. As citizens, how equipped we are to pick the cudgels and fight for our right is to be seen.