“Paid News”—editorial space being sold for a fee, without revealing to news consumers that it is an advertisement—is suddenly all the rage, with the Magsaysay Award-winning journalist P. Sainath weighing in on the issue.
In just the last week, the Foundation for Media Professionals (FMP) has conducted a seminar on the topic*; the communist party leader Prakash Karat has dropped some pearls of wisdom; The Hindu has editorially commented on the issue and warned of a follow-up editorial; and media-watchers like B.V. Rao, formerly of the Indian Express, Star News and Zee News, and Mahesh Vijapurkar, formerly of The Hindu, have thrown fresh light on the subject.
But the phenomenon of “paid-for news” is really the institutionalisation of an individual transgression.
Individual reporters and editors with feeble spines—in politics, in business, in cinema, in sport; in English, Hindi and every language; in every part of the country—have always been available for grabs. They could be relied upon to mortgage their minds and do the needful in exchange for cash, cars, government accommodation, house plots, and other sundry benefits (as this news item in The Pioneer hints at).
A whole band of editors and senior journalists were not loathe to calling up chief ministers (and other movers and shakers) for advertisements to shore up their bottomlines.
And several have done far worse.
In a way, they were only marginally different from “paid news” and are, in many ways, its precursor.
The key difference is that the bean counters in media houses have realised that, in a downturn, there is a small mountain of money to be made by monetising editorial space, and that advertisement as news can put some black on the bottomline. But can mediapersons have any objections over the institutionalisation of a retrograde practice without tackling the individual sins?
* Disclosures apply
Newspaper facsimile: courtesy The Pioneer