RBI’s action of pushing up interest rates on savings accounts is fraught with peril
A though-provoking documentary on what the media feeds the masses
“When I see a movie getting good ratings, I go watch it. If it turns out to be bad, I lose Rs150 for the ticket. How does paid news affect me then?”
A member of the audience asked the panellists after the screening of the movie ‘Brokering News’ by Moneylife Foundation and vCitizens Action Network and MxM India. The movie was produced by Public Service Broadcasting Trust (PSBT).
While there is no apparent serious affect on the likes of this gentleman except wasting a small amount of money; paid news is something that the masses should be wary of. The movie showed how, mass media, which is responsible for reporting correct information and mould public opinion; has started to act as mouthpiece of corporate houses, power lobbies and politicians—misleading the people and redirecting public opinion for their benefit.
Umesh Agarwal, director, has dealt with four aspects of paid news in his movies: sports, entertainment/movies, election coverage and business analysis/industry news.
Much of the movie revolves around the Press Council’s once suppressed report on paid news, which indicted many publishers and broadcasters of taking money for reporting on state assembly elections in 2004 and 2009; praising one candidate while maligning others; which had a significant effect on the voting results.
The movie started with how, every regional political party have started news channels to broadcast propaganda and praise themselves. Even national channels are not immune to paid news. Then there are movie/entertainment promotions that masquerade as news. Mr Agarwal showed how just before the release of the movie ‘Rann’, Amitabh Bachchan acted as the ‘editor’ of Star News. “The bad thing is that the channel did not flash any disclaimer that this was a promotion. And that is not acceptable for a news channel,” Mr Agarwal later said. Equally strange was seeing Kareena Kapoor and Saif Ali Khan debate on why a Muslim is not always a terrorist (!) just before the release of Kurban, which eventually tanked.
The most recognisable and repeated category is of course, sports. ‘Brokering News’ showed how channels offer ‘news packages’, which hype over sports events and matches which otherwise fail to generate interest. Even the most irrelevant events, like a five-day test between India and England see hours dedicated to speculation, commentaries, post-mortem and stock footage. The most glaring example is Sachin Tendulkar’s next century, which has become a morning fixture on all channels.
The most damaging aspect, probably, is that of skewed business analysis. Stock advices are often contradictory, shallow and confusing. There is no broad discussion which includes all sides and facts, and such programs are interested in pushing up stock prices of certain companies. A very interesting example is that of the Reliance ADAG deal with foreign telecom companies. For three consecutive days, newspapers announced ADAG’s tie-ups with three different companies, all of which denied the claims. “Isn’t there a pattern? Someone must look into it. The information is either cleverly ‘leaked out’ or the publishers are paid to publish such things to manipulate stock prices,” said Ms Sucheta Dalal, trustee of Moneylife Foundation, who also featured in the film.
Apart from interviewing journalists and media commentators, ‘Brokering News’ also talked about reporters and activists who have turned crusaders against the issue. But, like one such former correspondent of a Hindi daily said, “Often there is no documentary evidence on paid news, since most transactions are made in cash.”
The movie ended with emphasising the need for having a competent and independent regulatory authority for the media which can clamp down on erring channels and publishers and even penalise them; and also listed the numerous recommendations that the paid news report had made. After the screening, an interactive panel discussion on the various aspects followed, which ended in applause.
The apex court, however gave the petitioners the liberty to file afresh raising constitutional issues regarding appointment of regulators and on the concept of regulatory independence
The Supreme Court on Monday allowed eminent citizens, who had filed a public interest litigation (PIL) challenging the procedure for appointment of the Securities and Exchange Board of India (SEBI) chief, UK Sinha, to withdraw their petition.
However, it gave the petitioners the liberty to file afresh raising constitutional issues regarding appointment of regulators and on the concept of regulatory independence.
"What is being argued before us (by the petitioners) is on concepts arising out of Constitutional law. However, that has not been taken up as a prayer in the writ petition. We expect proper pleading in the matter where Constitutional doctrines are sought to be invoked particularly with respect to regulatory independence... If so advised, petitioners may file afresh a fresh petition raising the points which were argued before us," the Supreme Court said.
A group of eminent citizens, including former Chief of Air Staff S Krishnaswamy, former Punjab police chief Julio Ribeiro and former joint director of CBI, BR Lall, filed the PIL alleging that the constitution of the search committee for appointing the chairman and directors was altered to give the finance minister more say on the selection.
"The constitution of the search-cum-selection committee for recommending the name of chairman and every whole-time members of SEBI for appointment has been altered, which directly impacted its balance and could compromise the role of the Sebi as a watchdog. It is the only instance of its sort where the concerned minister has placed two members of his own choosing in the search-cum-selection committee," the PIL alleged.
Replying to the PIL, the Finance Ministry (FinMin), in a hard-hitting affidavit, challenged the assumptions and motivations of the group. The affidavit filed by Amit Bansal, an undersecretary in the Finance Ministry refuted two assumptions on the basis of which the 'eminent citizens' have sought to quash the appointment of Mr Sinha as chairman and to extend the term of two whole time directors MS Sahoo and KM Abraham from three to five years (both have already quit SEBI).
The affidavit also pointed out that in 2009, the search committee had mentioned four names. First M Damodaran who was already the SEBI chairman, UK Sinha and Dr Jaimini Bhagwati (both former joint secretaries in charge of the capital markets portfolio at the Finance Ministry) and it mentioned that CB Bhave had mentioned that he was disinclined to accept the post. Yet, strangely enough, Mr Bhave was selected, when (as Moneylife has frequently reported) the Prime Minister was all set to grant an extension to Mr Damodaran.
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