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  • Priyanka Bal

Is the Media Losing its Own Voice?

The media indeed holds a very powerful position in a democracy. It has played a pivotal role in nurturing the democratic form of government across the globe. From the Watergate scandal in the United States to the Bofors Expose in India, the media has always compelled the governments and corporate entities to answer their wrongdoings.It was the media, the print media, in particular, that pressed the nation into coming together behind one common agenda of Indian freedom.It was the media that helped the people of this country look beyond their differences and ignited the idea of our independence in their minds.

The media has taken a wrong turn by involving itself in the corrupt practice of selling the news as advertisements. It is publishing false narrative to the masses. A narrative that is being paid for by big conglomerates and political parties to carry out their agenda as news to the common public.t needs to be understood at the outset that media is part of the society. Since society is plagued by the evils of corruption, it would be impractical to expect anything different from the media. But the menace of paid news is much bigger than some individual corrupt journalists.As the country is moving more and more towards digitization, the abhorrence of paid news is rising with it. What’s more frightening is that paid news is being rampantly used in the elections in almost every state in India.

A large number of cases involving paid news are coming to the attention. In the 2008 Madhya Pradesh Assembly election, the Election commission of India disqualified Narottam Mishra, based on the 42 cases of paid news that backed his electoral victory.In Uttar Pradesh, MLA Umlesh Yadav was also disqualified on the same grounds. Madhya Pradesh was one of the top three states with the highest number of paid news complaints for the period of 2010 to 2013. The total number of notices issued by the Election Commission in Madhya Pradesh were 279 out of which 165 were confirmed.The only two states with numbers higher than Madhya Pradesh were Gujarat and Punjab where the Election Commission issued 495 and 339 notices respectively.

Owners are the ones who enter into financial relationships with advertisers and public relation companies, even accepting shares of the company in lieu of the media coverage. These dealing are known as “Private Treaties”.Private treaties not only grants these big conglomerates easy access, from where they can disseminate their propaganda by masquerading information as news, but it also allows them to block any piece of news that will be detrimental to their interests and public image.Many suggestions to curb the evils of paid news have been put forward. The Election Commission has recommended amending the Representation of People Act, 1951 by making paying for news, a ground, for the disqualification of the candidate from the election.

The Working Journalist Act, 1955 (or the Working Journalist and Other Newspaper Employees [Conditions of Services] and Miscellaneous Provisions Act, 1955) can be considered to be the governments best bet towards regulating paid news. The Act, which is currently applicable to print journalists only, has safeguards to protect the journalists from getting coerced by the whims of their employers.

Section 16 of the Act clearly prohibits any clauses in the employment contracts that are inconsistent with its provisions. What is interesting is that the Act doesn’t stop journalists from enjoying better terms than those provided by the act. This solves the issue of low wages being paid to the journalists for enjoying freedom under this Act.It has been held constitutional by the Supreme Court in Express Newspaper vs UOI where the court recognised that the working journalists are a group themselves and hence the provisions of this Act doesn’t violate Article 14 of the Indian Constitution. Making applicable the provisions of this Act across all medium of journalism–print, TV, radio as well as the internet–would be a step in the right direction.