'Paid news' a serious issue, says Soni

When paid information is presented as news content, it could mislead the public and thereby hamper their judgement to form a correct opinion and there is an urgent need to protect the public's right to correct and unbiased information, according to the government

Describing the 'paid news' phenomenon as a serious matter, the Indian government on Friday said the right of the public to correct and unbiased information needs to be protected, reports PTI.

"There exists strong circumstantial evidence of the malpractices," information and broadcasting minister Ambika Soni said in the Rajya Sabha in response to a Calling Attention Notice on the issue.

She said that the phenomenon of 'paid news' is a serious matter as it influences functioning of a free press.

"When paid information is presented as news content, it could mislead the public and thereby hamper their judgement to form a correct opinion. Thus, there is no denying the fact that there is an urgent need to protect the public's right to correct and unbiased information," Ms Soni said.

She said it was important that all sections of society should introspect on this issue as "it has wide ranging implications for our democratic structure."

Representatives of the Andhra Pradesh Union of Working Journalists (APUWJ) have named six newspapers, carrying numerous 'paid news' stories, she said in response to the notice given by CPI-M member Sitaram Yechury.

Concerned over the trend, leader of Opposition Arun Jaitley said that there should be a regulator in the field which should impose 'deterrent' penalties on the malpractice. He said if political parties are found to be indulging in the same, there should be action against them as well.

He asked the government whether it would take steps against the problem or leave the menace of unlawful trade and business to the Press Council of India (PCI) which he called a 'toothless wonder'.

Giving clarifications, Ms Soni said the government did not view the 'paid news' syndrome as freedom of expression. The proposals to give more teeth to the PCI were 'under the consideration' of the government, she said.

She was responding to concerns expressed by Mr Jaitley, who said that the minister's statement seemed to be based on a premise that 'paid news' is freedom of expression. He wanted the government to show a will and solutions could be found.

Ms Soni said that the PCI has been writing to successive governments to enhance its powers but "for one or the other reason", it was not done.

While the government is committed to ensuring freedom of speech and expression, "all sections of society should introspect on this issue (paid news) as it has wide-ranging implications for our democratic structure."

She said that the report of the sub-committee on the issue would come by the end of this month.

Ms Soni said that the PCI is giving adequate attention to ensure editor's primacy in news organisations.

She welcomed a suggestion from Mr Yechury to stop government advertisements to media houses, which are found to be indulging in such malpractices. But even if she had given a hint in this regard, she would have been charged with arm-twisting the media, Ms Soni said.

Ms Soni agreed to look into the issue of Television Rating Points (TRPs), which BJP leader and former broadcasting minister Ravishankar Prasad dubbed as the "biggest fraud and the biggest incentive behind paid news."

The minister said she will be in the “front row to check” anything that affects “unadulterated news.”
 

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Montek on UN advisory panel on climate-change financing

Montek Singh Ahluwalia is among 19 members chosen for a high-level advisory group on Climate Change Financing tasked with mobilising funds pledged during the Copenhagen meet to tackle global warming

India's deputy chairman of the Planning Commission, Montek Singh Ahluwalia, is among 19 members chosen by UN chief Ban Ki-moon for a high-level advisory group on Climate Change Financing tasked with mobilising funds pledged during the Copenhagen meet to tackle global warming, reports PTI.

Apart from Mr Ahluwalia, philanthropist George Soros and British academic Nicholas Stern are among the members of the body co-chaired by UK prime minister Gordon Brown and his Ethiopian counterpart Meles Zenawi.

President of the Republic of Guyana Bharrat Jagdeo and Norwegian prime minister Jens Stoltenberg are also part of the group, whose other members include diplomats, bankers, businesspersons and philanthropists.

The Copenhagen Conference on Climate Change in December last year had failed to produce a legally-binding treaty.

Instead, it settled for the Copenhagen Accord, whose key elements included a limit of 2 degree rise in global temperature; $100 billion in long-term financing to developing countries and $30 billion in short-term financing to the poorest and most vulnerable nations.

There is still no clear mechanism for the actual collection and disbursement of this aid, but the next round of formal negotiations on the issue are scheduled for May in Bonn.

The advisory committee on Climate Change Financing is tasked with presenting a report to Mr Ban on the best way to collect and dispense this money, before the next big Climate Change meeting scheduled for the end of the year in Mexico.

The advisory group will have its first meeting on 29th March at London.
 

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Government considering steps for reopening shut fertiliser units

The government is importing urea for reviving seven sick fertiliser plants across the country, besides increasing the capacity of existing units

The government is considering modalities for reopening several closed fertiliser units across the country, the Rajya Sabha was informed on Friday, reports PTI.

"Urea is being imported for reviving sick fertiliser units. Seven plants are currently not functioning and the government has decided to revive them," minister of state for chemicals and fertilisers Srikant Jena said during the Question Hour.

Mr Jena said that the government is also planning to increase the capacity of existing fertiliser units, and is also trying to convert their base from naphtha to gas.

He said that the ministry is also considering adding a fourth unit at Namrup fertiliser plant in Assam, as its existing three units are not functioning.

To another question, Mr Jena said that a joint venture company—KRIBHCO Shyam Fertiliser Ltd (KSFL)—had acquired a urea-ammonium plant of Oswal Chemicals and Fertilisers Ltd (OCFL) at Shahjahanpur in Uttar Pradesh in January 2006.

The joint venture unit suffered a loss of Rs39.87 crore during 2008-09 though earlier it had reported net profit of Rs3.41 crore during 2005-06, Rs3.76 crore in 2006-07 and Rs0.57 crore in 2007-08, he added.

 

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