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Nitika, BBA LL.B. Lovely professional university ,Punjab
Corruption in the mass media in India and elsewhere is as old as the media itself. If there is corruption in society, it would be unrealistic to expect the media to be free of corruption. India is the world‘s largest democracy. A vibrant and diverse mass media is an important pillar of democracy in the country. The independence of the media facilitates adherence to democratic norms. Article 19 of the Constitution of India confers the right to freedom of speech and expression to all citizens of the country and to the media as well.  News is meant to be objective, fair and neutral; this is what sets apart such information and opinion from advertisements that are paid for by corporate entities, governments, organizations or individuals. The fifteenth general elections to the Lok Sabha took place in April-May 2009 and in order to ensure free and fair coverage by the media, the Press Council of India issued guidelines applicable to both government authorities and the press. After the elections, a disturbing trend was highlighted by sections of the media, that is, payment of money by candidates to representatives of media companies for favourable coverage or the phenomenon popularly known as paid news. Large sections of society, including political personalities, those working in the media and others, have already expressed their unhappiness and concern about the pernicious influence of such malpractices. We proudly claim the word “paid news” was first coined by us,” says the introduction of the APUWJ’s memorandum on paid news that was submitted to the Press Council in February 2010. In simple terms, what can “paid news” mean? News can be “paid” in the sense that journalists are paid professionals, or in the sense that the news is paid for by the readers (while buying a newspaper or subscribing to TV channels). “We used the word ‘paid news’ in our media briefing (in April 2010). Until then, such practice was called ‘surrogate advertisement’, etc”.
IN THE CASE OF ASSAM:
Before the polls scheduled for 4th April 2011 at Assam, it was observed that history might be repeating itself. The ghost of “paid news” still haunts the political scenario in India. The Bharatiya Janata Party in Assam has alleged the Congress to pay for publicity of their electoral propaganda in a popular channel there in the guise of news. The wife of Himanta Biswa Sarma, a minister who is contesting the assembly polls is said to be the managing director of the aforesaid channel NewsLive TV. In a letter to Chief Election Commissioner S.Y. Quraishi, the party alleged that the Congress was misusing a private news channel for telecasting biased news and said it “amounts to paid news to influence the voters of the state” for the forthcoming assembly polls. “The channel is presently running as an agent of the Congress party and screening programmes of the Congress which is nothing but clear case malpractice of paid news,” the letter said. Also Nagaon Talks channel has been sealed by Election Commission officials as it is owned by Congress MLA Rockybul Hussain who is contesting from Samguri constituency. However, this is dismal as the Election Commission right after announcing the dates of polls in West Bengal, Tamil Nadu, Assam, Kerela and Puducherry had instructed formation of district level committees to monitor and investigate paid news. The committee had to closely monitor advertisements in print medium in any form and to cross check if that has been accounted for in the election expenditure account.
PAID NEWS AS A CRIME:
Major dailies published a false report that ‘NTR is preparing dissolves house’. And that has a dramatic effect of induced dozens of legislators to shift loyalty overnight to Chandrababu Naidu. After taking oath as Chief Minister, Naidu ‘paid’ a visit to residential houses of those journalists who sold their ‘news’. In Parkal Assembly Constituency in Warangal District where the by-election was held, ‘votes for cash’ was known to everyone. No doubt that the vigilant officers seized huge currency bundles but much before election notification candidates sure to be fielded have completed distribution of cash in selected households.. Long hand of law can reach if there is fraudulent or false publication ‘suppression’ for cash gets not noticed. No law on the earth can punish ‘paid silence’, or ‘paid suppression’ or ‘paid deletion’. The Supreme Court said that what amounts to interference with the exercise of an electoral right is ‘tyranny over the mind’. Even attempt to interfere with free exercise is an electoral offence. By examining content of “paid news”, the possibility of direct or indirect interference or attempt to interfere on behalf of a candidate with the free exercise of electoral right would be discovered.
This is not just an unethical practice but a new form of crime on par with economic, white collared and organized crimes of rich and powerful. It has characteristics of perjury, misrepresentation, deceit and cheating, which are well defined crimes under IPC and RP Act.
Issue of paid news is a matter of serious concern and should not be confined to the realm of election time offences but should be recognized as either a statutory offence under the Indian Penal Code, 1860 or in the alternate and as elaborated upon below, there should be a separate statute recognising offences relating to the press wherein it should find recognition.The reason for the same lies in the fact that while earlier, the concept of freedom of press essentially implied non-intervention by the State, in the 21st century, a truly independent press is one which is not only uninfluenced by the State but also by private interests. While a lot of focus has been directed towards ways of limiting the former, the Hackgate scandal has brought to light the need to protect the integrity of the Press from private forces.
In India, despite the lively vibrancy of the fourth estate, its freedom from influence has always been a contentious issue and it often finds itself dismally low in the Freedom of Press Index. Such an abysmal position is attributed to numerous factors from constant intervention by the State, ownership patterns of the media, increasing Internet censorship, growing violence against journalists and the snowballing phenomenon of paid news. Amongst these factors the phenomenon of paid news has acquired a serious dimension and has become a major concern of the democratic society especially since India houses the largest newspaper industry in the world.
 PRESS COUNCIL Sub-Committee Report, “Paid News”: How corruption in the Indian media undermines democracy, p. 4, available at http://presscouncil.nic.in/OldWebsite/Sub-CommitteeReport.pdf.
 Ibid. p. 1.
 Ibid, p. 2.
 APUWJ, Memorandum on paid news, http://www.apuwj.org/Memorandum.aspx (last accessed July 17, 2013).
 See http://www.deccanchronicle.com/channels/cities/hyderabad/results-raise-telangana-hopes-127.
 Shiv Kripal Singh v V.V. Giri, AIR, 1970, SC 2097.