Government in consultative mode to check paid news

New Delhi: The government is expected to place before parliament suggestions it receives from media associations and regulatory bodies on ways to curb the phenomenon of paid news.

A senior official of the Information and Broadcasting ministry told IANS: “The Press Council of India (PCI) has set up a two-member committee following complaints regarding paid news. The PCI is expected to discuss the committee’s report March 31.”

The PCI is a statutory, quasi-judicial body which acts as a watchdog of the press.

The official said that the two-member committee has contacted Indian Newspaper Society, Indian Language Newspaper Association and other stakeholders as part of its consultation process.

Information and Broadcasting Minister Ambika Soni had, earlier this month, told the Rajya Sabha that the PCI report on paid news will be placed before parliament and the government will formulate its response to tackle the problem based on the suggestions of members.

Putting forth the government’s point of view after the matter was raised through a calling attention motion in the house, she said paid news was a serious matter as it influences the functioning of a free press.

She told the members that the PCI along with the Election Commission of India had set in a process to look at financial paid news and political paid news and the exercise was expected to be completed by the end of March.

Bharatiya Janta Party leader Sushma Swaraj, at a meeting on paid news organised earlier this month by the Editors Guild of India, Indian Women’s Press Corps and Press Association and Broadcast Editors Association, said that the issue will be raised in the Lok Sabha during the second half of budget session beginning April 15.

Swaraj and Congress spokesperson Manish Tewari agreed with Communist Party of India-Marxist (CPI-M) general secretary Prakash Karat’s suggestion made during the meeting that paid news should be declared an electoral malpractice under the Representation of People’s Act.

CPI-M leader Sitaram Yechury said that government should stop its advertisements to newspapers and media houses indulging in the malpractice.

BJP vice president Mukhtar Abbas Naqvi said that the problem of paid news was widespread and complex.

“It should be tackled as part of larger electoral reforms,” he said.

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