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Approach:

  1. Introduction – define paid news.
  2. Mention some recent cases with data.
  3. Mention, pointwise, TRAI’s recommendations.

According to the Press Council’s report, paid news is any news or analysis appearing in any media (print & electronic) for a price in cash or kind as consideration. It was a “complex phenomenon” that had “acquired different forms over the last six decades”, the Council said, ranging from “accepting gifts on various occasions, foreign and domestic junkets, various monetary and non-monetary benefits, besides direct payment of money”. It mentioned that private treaties signed between media companies and corporate entities could also be part of the phenomenon.

Instances: Of the 22 states in which Assembly elections were held between 2010 and 2013, Madhya Pradesh was in the top three for the highest number of cases of alleged paid news. In Punjab, 339 notices were issued; 523 cases were confirmed. In Gujarat 495 notices were issued; 414 cases confirmed.

Ashok Chavan, a former chief minister in Maharashtra used campaign funds for paid news. He was questioned by the Election Commission of India in 2010. In 2009, Bhupinder Singh Hooda – then the chief minister of Haryana, acknowledged that he offered money to the newspapers to stop printing unfavourable “paid news” he alleged was funded by his opposition, and to print favourable news and the “right picture” in his view.

TRAI’s recommendations: TRAI, in a paper titled Recommendation on Media Ownership, in its opening remarks, said, “The right to freedom of speech is essential for sustaining the vitality of democracy. This is why the right is sacrosanct; it is fiercely protected by the media. The question that arises is whether reposing such a right in the media simultaneously casts an obligation on the media to convey information and news that is accurate, truthful and unbiased.” “What happens in the media,” the paper states, “is the concern of the entire country.”

  • It said an entity that holds a 32% market share in both the print and electronic platforms must either exit from one of the mediums or reduce its stake to 20%.
  • Trai has also recommended a ban on political parties and other public-funded bodies from owning TV channels and distribution platforms.
  • It feels corporate ownership, as also loans and financial assistance to news media organizations, should be limited and that editorial independence should be ensured by creating a media regulator to be predominantly manned by eminent non-media persons.
  • It has said that under no circumstances should the government regulate the media.
  • On the issue of corporate ownership of media organization, TRAI has said that on grounds of inherent conflict of interest, ownership restrictions on corporates entering the media should be seriously considered by the government and the regulator.
  • It has suggested the same by restricting the amount of equity holding a corporate can have in a media organization or the extent of loan it can extend.
  • On practices such as “private treaties”, TRAI has said it should be proscribed immediately through orders of the Press Council of India or through statutory rules and regulations.
  • On “paid news”, it has said that both media organization and persons like an MP or MLA paying for favourable news should be held liable.
  • It also recommended that in case of “advertorials”, a clear disclaimer should be mandated, to be printed in bold letters, stating that the succeeding content has been paid for.
  • It has also said that media organisation must disclose to the licensor and regulator their top 10 advertisers, subscription and advertisement revenue, and advertising rates.
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