Election Commision wants minimum punishment of 2 years in cases of paid news

NEW DELHI: The Election Commission of India has asked the Centre to impose a minimum punishment of two years to anyone found guilty of indulging in the malaise of paid news.

Chief Election Commissioner SY Qureshi said during a discussion here that the Commission could only act if it was given sufficient proof. He said the Commission had set up a Media Monitoring and Media Certification Committee to keep a check on the media during elections.

He also said new guidelines had been issued for publications owned by people associated with political parties.

He said there was also a proposal to ban government-sponsored advertisements relating to its achievements at least two months before the elections.

Qureshi was speaking at a discussion on ‘Paid News’ organised by the Public Service Broadcasting Trust after the screening of the hour-long film ‘Brokering News’ by Umesh Aggarwal exposing this malaise.

The film shows examples of how news is bought and sold in both the print and the electronic media by politicians, corporate houses, sportspersons, and even film personalities. It blatantly shows the link of some of the mediapersons to Niira Radia by screening clips of the telephonically conversations, apart from showing how TV channels help the stocks of certain corporate houses to rise by the way they present the programmes. There is also an example of the same article about a politician appearing on different days in different newspapers under different names.

The film also showed the case of Kurukshetra based print mediaperson Rakesh K Sharma who had been forced by his Hindi newspaper to collect money in the name of interviews or advertisements from politicians for almost six years, but quit his job to expose cases of paid news. Both Aggarwal and Sharma were present.

Others who took part in the discussion included Mint editor R Sukumar, Prasar Bharati Chairperson and former editor of Dainik HindustanMrinal Pande, and NDTV managing editor, special projects, Pankaj Pachauri, The Hoot editor Sevanti Ninan, which is a media watchdog publication.

Initiating the discussion, PSBT Managing Trustee Rajiv Mehrotra said the Trust gave full freedom to the filmmakers and did not interfere with the films once the script was given approval.

Senior journalist Paranjoy Guha Thakurta who was one of the two-member panel of the Press Council which went into the malaise, regretted that only a five-page statement had been issued to the media on the 71-page report.

Doordarshan Director General Tripurari Sharan said this film was very important for the public service broadcaster which would telecast the film. He said this may make people realise the importance of a public service broadcaster.

Pande applauded the courage of the filmmaker and said the real problem lay in the ownership pattern of the newspapers – particularly when the proprietor was himself the editor. She said there were also cases in Hindi publications of the editor holding shares in the publication, which automatically meant his first loyalty was to the shareholders.

She said part-time journalists or stringers were crucial to the malaise of paid news since their real loyalty did not lie with the newspaper.

Pachauri admitted that self-regulation did not work, and felt cases of political paid news was worse than business paid news. The media had been hijacked by corporates and politicians, and the media had become a political party in itself. He cited the case of a sting operation run by a channel at the behest of the largest opposition party.

He felt the need of an independent Press Commission in the country to check such issues.

Though not very impressed by the film, Sukumar admitted that there were cases of paid news in the corporate sector but wanted more checks and balances. He regretted there was no law to prevent advertisements coming in the name of news, and admitted to huge advertisement pressure on business newspapers.

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