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

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

Ranjona Banerji, consultant to 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.”


Ranbaxy inks consent decree with USFDA

Ranbaxy also intends to make a provision of $500 million in connection with the investigation by the US Department of Justice

Drug-maker Ranbaxy Laboratories said it has signed an agreement with the US health regulator to lift a ban on the import of drugs from certain manufacturing plants in India and will pay up to $500 million to settle a case lodged by the Department of Justice.

"Ranbaxy Laboratories announced that it has signed a consent decree with the US Food and Drug Administration (USFDA). Ranbaxy has committed to further strengthen procedures and policies to ensure data integrity and to comply with current good manufacturing practices," the company said in a statement.

"Separately, Ranbaxy also announced that it intends to make a provision of $500 million (approximately Rs2,640 crore) in connection with the investigation by the US Department of Justice, which the company believes will be sufficient to resolve all potential civil and criminal liability," it added.

In 2008, the USFDA had banned 30 generic drugs produced by Ranbaxy at its Dewas (Madhya Pradesh) and Paonta Sahib and Batamandi unit in Himachal Pradesh, citing gross violation of approved manufacturing norms. In the same year, the US Department of Justice had moved a motion against the company in a local court alleging forgery of documents and fraudulent practice.

Ranbaxy CEO and managing director Arun Sawhney said: "While we were disappointed by the conduct that led to the FDA's investigation, we are proud of the systematic corrective steps we have taken to upgrade and enhance the quality of our business and manufacturing processes."

The settlement with the USFDA follows the recent launch of a generic version of Lipitor, a cholesterol-lowering drug, by the Gurgaon-based company in the American market.

In the late afternoon, Ranbaxy Laboratories was trading at around Rs406.50 per share on the Bombay Stock Exchange, 2.82% up from the previous close.


Tata Motors to raise truck output

The production rise will take the Tata Motor plant’s annual output to 450,000 vehicles

Tata Motors will increase output of light commercial trucks from its Pantnagar plant in north India by up to 90,000 vehicles per year from early 2012, said Ravi Pisharody, president of the automaker's commercial vehicles unit.

The production rise will take the plant's annual output to around 450,000 vehicles, Pisharody said on Tuesday. Sales of commercial vehicles, a key indicator of the country's economic activity, rose 35% in November, data from an industry body showed.

In the late afternoon, Tata Motors was trading at around Rs176.80 per share on the Bombay Stock Exchange, 1.09% up from the previous close.


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