Moneylife Events
‘Its high time that people make ‘paid news’ a dirty word’

Veteran journalists express their concerns about paid news at a panel discussion

“I don’t think that the people and the media are ignorant of this issue called paid news. However, we must make it a very dirty word, and have an authority that should crack down on it. India needs to have some strong media watchdog which will not interfere with journalistic freedom but must come down heavily on paid news,” said Smruti Koppikar, associate editor (West) and bureau chief at Outlook. She was speaking at a panel discussion organised by Moneylife Foundation on paid news, following a screening of the movie ‘Brokering News’, directed by Umesh Agarwal, which deals with the subject.

For knowing more about the movie, read http://www.moneylife.in/article/brokering-news-how-much-are-you-paying/21577.html

Ethics, introspection and vigilance
Ms Koppikar said that the Election Commission has been far more pro-active in countering the malaise than media itself has. “And when I see veteran journalists say ‘don’t blame the media’ I feel like asking that who else has eroded its own credibility,” she said.

Ms Koppikar also talked about dignity of the editor. She said, “When the editor knows that a reporter is close to someone and maybe enjoying some favours due to that relationship, she should not let that reporter write on that person/entity. I don’t say that journalists can’t develop friendships, but the editor should make sure that the line of professionalism is never overstepped.” She gave the example of the editor of Outlook, who published the Radia tapes, and was subsequently banned from appearing on some news channels. “The media itself doesn’t want to get corrected,” she observed.

Dnyanada Deshpande, who had worked as an editor for television channel IBN Lokmat, talked about the nexus between regional media publications and politicians. “There are many unknown publications which get huge amount of funds from their corporate and political stakeholders. Almost all vernacular publications have some sort of political backing. Who is going to expose whom, then?” she said.

She spoke about a journalist who had been caustic against Sharad Pawar for 20 years. “Suddenly, he joins another publication, and has nothing but good things to say about Pawar,” she said, “One can learn a lot of things by observing the changing pattern in the journalist’s writings.”

Veteran journalist Ms Geeta Seshu talked about a stringer for a Delhi daily, Nayi Duniya. “He just wrote one story about a fishy business and he was killed. Surprisingly, Nayi Duniya did not launch any investigations. What do we make of such cases?” When a member of the audience raised the issue of media ownership, Ms Seshu said, “What we can see is though the range of media/publication has diversified, ownership has consolidated. In USA, there are more channels than ever, but only six owners. India is not much different. Many corporates and powerful people own stakes in multiple houses—so, they can influence almost all.”

Incidentally, Reliance Industries chief Mukesh Ambani is reportedly in talks for buying the debt-ridden Network18 (which owns CNBC, Viacom, MTV and jointly owns CNN IBN with Time Warner). Mr Ambani is also invested in hedge fund DE Shaw, which owns 14% stake in NDTV. Read more http://www.moneylife.in/article/mukesh-ambani-building-media-empire/22321.html

Ranjona Banerji, consultant to mxmindia.com and columnist said, “Somewhere, media house management also needs to be held accountable and be made to introspect—because they force in a lot of content. And one must be wary of correspondents who double up as advertising agents for corporates or political parties.” Ms Banerji pointed out that the Editor’s Guild and the Press Council of India had been fairly toothless, and has failed to check the phenomenon of paid news.

Legitimising the compromise
Ms Deshpande talked about the various awards that publication houses give. She said, “If a media house manages to get some very credible people on their jury or as awardees; they legitimise their stand. People then stop questioning their content. Awards are more about who give them than who receive them.” She talked about a Securities and Exchange Board of India (SEBI) chairman who stopped cracking down on some parties after he got an award from a news channel.

She said how even senior journalists in the know of paid-news phenomenon are interested to work with guilty media houses because they command prestige. She talked about how journalists who were awarded junkets by companies like Posco and other mining/power entities blacked out the oppression local people and tribals were put through, and only after a major fire happened in one of the protest sites, the media was forced to report.

Ms Koppikar said that paid news was a fairly old phenomenon, and she had witnessed stringers act like advertisement collectors from politicians during 1991 elections itself. “Every newspaper publishes such content during elections and gets highly paid. Though some publications demarcate it as ‘sponsored content’, most carry it as news,” she said.

When asked about compulsory declarations on behalf of reporters about stakeholding in brands or availing favours from politicians, she said that such disclosures are not feasible on a daily basis and will not work out in the long run. “Do you expect a reporter to write under every article that he has been allotted a flat under the minister’s discretion quota?” she asked.

Ms Banerji talked about how the company management compromise the editorial space for getting advertisements. “Just look at the uproar about the journalists’ wage-board recommendations. All newspapers fumed about how the government is no one to dictate what they pay their staff”, she said, “yet, most of them pay their reporters much more than the board figures. The protest was a gesture of resistance, claiming control over their reporters.”

The journalists also talked about how paid news plays a big part in business reporting and healthcare coverage.

The cure
“The biggest problem is that people do not want to pay for news,” pointed out Ms Koppikar. Some members of audience suggested using the digital platform and the social media to put up independent content; and spread awareness on paid news. However, all journalists pointed out that subscription-based revenue models have not worked in India, and have not brought in enough to continue in the long run.

All journalists agreed that there is need for strong media vigilance bodies. Ms Seshu said, “And I think that the public should really start asking tough questions. When a reporter is allotted a flat by the minister, it is from the tax payers’ money. They must ask why that has been done. Even Doordarshan must be hauled up for having paid shows on healthcare and being a government mouthpiece, because that is also funded by the public.”

Ms Koppikar pointed out that the recommendations of the Paid News sub-committee report must be implemented immediately. She said, “Ultimately, we have to make paid news a very dirty word. People should abhor it and force the media to abstain from it.”

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‘There is need for strong media watchdogs and introspection’

Veteran journalists express their concerns about ‘paid news’ at a panel discussion

“India needs to have some strong media watchdog, which will not interfere with journalistic freedom but must come down heavily on paid news,” said Geeta Seshu, a veteran journalist  She was speaking at a panel discussion organised by Moneylife Foundation on paid news, following a screening of the movie ‘Brokering News’, directed by Umesh Agarwal, which deals with the subject.

Smruti Koppikkar, associate editor (West) and bureau chief at Outlook, pointed out that disclosures of reporters or media houses holding stakes in companies or earning favours from politicians is not feasible regularly in the long run. She also said, “The problem is also that people do not want to pay for the news that they read.”

Dnyanada Deshpande, who had worked as an editor for television channel IBN Lokmat talked about the nexus between regional media publications and politicians; and also about the awards given to individuals by media houses. “If a media house manages to get some very credible people on their jury or as awardees; they legitimise their stand. People then stop questioning their content. Awards are more about who give them than who receive them.

  Ranjona Banerji, eminent journalist, said, “Somewhere, media house management also needs to be held accountable and be made to introspect—because they force in a lot of content. And one must be wary of correspondents who double up as advertising agents for corporates or political parties.”

The panel discussion ended with a lively interaction with the audience which comprised many journalists and social activists, and ended in applause.

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COMMENTS

Madhusudan Thakkar

6 years ago

Can we please have video on discussion.It is high time that Money Life should have WEEKLY newspaper.Mumbai does not enough papers like Delhi[The latest entrant is Deccan Herald]

‘Financial literacy and inclusion go hand-in-hand’

S Aftab, general manager-corporate communications at Union Bank talks about investor education at Moneylife’s seminar at Pune

“Financial inclusion is the buzzword today, but investors continue to be frustrated by lack of clarity on financial products, regulations, laws and schemes. This is why we need to focus on investor-education and financial literacy,” said S Aftab, general manager, corporate communications, support services & branch expansion departments, Union Bank of India, speaking at Moneylife Foundation’s seminar titled ‘Investor, Empower Yourself’ in Pune.
This was the fourth Moneylife seminar supported by Union Bank. Mr Aftab said, “People need to be aware of financial issues, and we hope we continue to promote financial literacy. Money is everything, and you must know how to be financially secure and how to invest it properly so that it gives you a good interest or return so that your future is free of worry.”

Ms Sucheta Dalal, trustee of Moneylife Foundation, spoke on the schemes to avoid while investing—like pyramid and multi-level marketing schemes, internet fraud mails and unregulated products. “It is better to invest with a scheme/product that is overseen by regulators like the Reserve Bank of India (RBI), Insurance Regulatory and Development Authority (IRDA) or Securities and Exchange Board of India (SEBI). There is no guarantee that you will not lose money if you invest in mutual funds or insurance products, but you can approach the regulator in case anything goes bad,” she said.
 
She also spoke on the importance of making a will and getting adequate insurance coverage. “Always bargain and negotiate with service providers and try to get the best deal. Also, if you get a better deal from someone who is not your traditional banker or insurer, move on,” she said.

She also talked about the many hidden charges for credit card transactions, especially cash withdrawals for which the interest gets compounded very fast. “People run up lakhs in unpaid credit bills, and they think everything is dissolved if they tear up the credit card. Even if the company can’t catch you, uncleared transactions will get registered with credit rating agencies. It will bring down your credit score, and later, you will not get loans,” she said. Ms Dalal also talked about checking one’s credit score from agencies. Often, a person doesn’t know if he is a credit defaulter—and sometimes, the transactions show ‘uncleared’ due to mistake of the banks.
 
Mr Debashis Basu, trustee of Moneylife Foundation, spoke on the importance of choosing the correct mutual funds. He also spoke on investing in gold, which is a speculative asset. “If we track gold prices through 30 years, we will see that it is dependent on the value of the dollar. Unless you are really good at decoding currency movements, avoid investing in gold,” he said.

Mr Basu also talked about planning retirement expenses and saving accordingly. “Erosion will eat away your savings. One must start investing in mutual funds and stocks for wealth creation—but invest only that which you can spare,” he said.

Following a lively question-answer session, the seminar ended in applause.

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