Consumer Issues
Advertising in news: Oliver has it right on native

Consumers of news have the right to know if a particular piece of content was written, produced and paid for by a particular company, whether it makes them less likely to click on it or not


John Oliver has it right. In eleven minutes, the host of HBO’s Last Week Tonight has summed up the thorny and misleading issues surrounding the ever-expanding world of native advertising, aka branded content and sponsored content.

Oliver called out Buzz Feed –while acknowledging that HBO paid for content to promote his show on the site.


He also pointed to Time Inc. whose CEO said it has eliminated the wall between advertising and editorial and that “its editors will be working for the business side of the equation,” and the New York Times, whose paid-for story on women in prison by Netflix to promote its Orange is the New Black series he acknowledged was well-done.


We here at have been keeping a watchful eye on branded content. As a journalist, I know very well the financial pressures facing media organizations who are struggling to survive in a digital frontier where content is often free. I also know from experience that publishers have always, always, faced pressure from advertisers who from time to time would threaten to stop advertising in the publication if it published a story that put the company in a negative light. All this went on behind the scenes but good editors and publications resisted, refusing to kill a story.


Mashable, which engages in native advertising, made note in a tweet about the segment of Oliver’s point that readers don’t like to pay for news.


Maybe so. But readers aren’t to blame. The issue is really simple and falls into the truth in labeling category. Consumers of news have the right to know if a particular piece of content was written, produced and paid for by a particular company, whether it makes them less likely to click on it or not. It is the FTC rule. Editors, writers and media outlets should insist on this.

Thanks John. We couldn’t have said it better ourselves.



Frivolous RTI queries are just 0.6% of total applications

Frivolous RTI applications help nobody, but they aren't as big a problem as they are made out to be


Last week, Congress spokesperson Tehsin Poonawala, asked under the RTI, “whether Achche Din have indeed arrived?” The reply he promptly got from the Prime Minister's Office (PMO) was, that the query is an opinion, and information that is accessible only as per records, can be provided.

He is not the only one, who for publicity or otherwise, makes frivolous applications that is a pain for Public Information Officers (PIO). Even across the world, frivolous queries under the Freedom of Information Act, as it is termed in countries like the US and UK, are asked and annually made public. Maybe our Chief Information Commissioner (CIC) should also consider doing so, for having a good laugh.

As per some news reports in British dailies, queries that have been posed are often like 'how would the council help the brave soldiers of our infantry if and when Napoleon and his marauding hordes invade the district?' 'Which of the council members would rescue Santa if he crash lands and who would clear the crash site?' 'Whether the council is ready for a `zombie’ invasion and whether the fire brigade is ready for an alien attack?' Hilarious enough!

Back in India, a query about 'the community that Lord Shiva and Parvati gave birth to' comes in at a similar level of frivolity, says RTI Activist Vijay Kumbhar. Questions about a 'feeling' or 'sentiment' may not be termed as information under RTI, but Kumbhar says, even PIOs are not far behind when it comes to giving frivolous answers. “In one of the queries to the Public Works Department (PWD), about the whereabouts of a bulky road roller, which had been bought by taxpayers’ money, the PIO replied, that it was eaten away by ants,” narrates Kumbhar.

From the humorous to the bizarre. RTI activist Vivek Velankar was stupefied when he procured information from a Tehsildar office, with a stamp on the document stating: 'this information has been given under RTI  but you cannot use it as a 'proof' anywhere. He had to fight to remove this 'illegal' certification.

Noted RTI activist from Delhi, Subhash Chandra Agrawal states, “filing of mischievous and/or frivolous RTI petitions unnecessarily over-burdens public-authorities and their resources, thus harming the very cause for which the RTI Act was enacted. Glorification of such mischievous RTI petitions by media, encourages filing of these frivolous petitions just for fun and publicity, and needs to be avoided.”

Fortunately for us, as per a recent study conducted by Right To Information Assessment and Advocacy Group's (RAAG) Anjali Bhardwaj and Amrita Johri, vexatious or frivolous applications account for only for 0.6% of the total applications under RTI. The study was based on 4,000 second appeals filed with various information commissioners.

Former Prime Minister Dr Manmohan Singh, while inaugurating the 2012 annual convention of Information Commissioners had said: “There are concerns about frivolous and vexatious use of the (RTI) Act, the disclosure of which cannot possibly serve any public purpose. Such queries, besides serving little productive social purpose, are also a drain on the resources of the public authorities, diverting precious man hours that could be put to better us. This important legislation should not be only about criticising, ridiculing, and running down public authorities. It should be more about promoting transparency and accountability, spreading information and awareness and empowering our citizen.’’

While Dr. Singh’s remarks might seem rhetorical, as he exaggerates the frivolous use, the point is there’s no harm in humour once in a while, as long as it is picked up by the media in an appropriate manner. Certainly not with a sensational `Breaking News’ twist as one channel did, regarding the `Ache din’ query!

“More importantly,” says Kumbhar, “media should also educate, while it informs, about RTI queries.”

(Vinita Deshmukh is consulting editor of Moneylife, an RTI activist and convener of the Pune Metro Jagruti Abhiyaan. She is the recipient of prestigious awards like the Statesman Award for Rural Reporting which she won twice in 1998 and 2005 and the Chameli Devi Jain award for outstanding media person for her investigation series on Dow Chemicals. She co-authored the book “To The Last Bullet - The Inspiring Story of A Braveheart - Ashok Kamte” with Vinita Kamte and is the author of “The Mighty Fall”.)



Nagesh Kini

3 years ago

It is my experience that the RTI route is grossly abused by the educated and so-called idle elite.
I know of a Mumbai-based plastic surgeon who had filed no less than 100 frivilous RTI applications with various offices of the MCGM and three PILs on the same subject only to waste the time of the authorities and respondents.
All such applications along with the names and responses need to be published in an annual report on RTI.
Fortunately the High Courts have started coming down on frivilous PILs.


3 years ago

If any PIO replied regarding a query relating to 'bulky road roller" that it was eaten away by ants, it cannot be taken as frivolous answer. It is an abusive reply.

New Provisions for Company FDs

New provisions of company deposits came into force from 1 April 2014. The period of deposits...

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