The Editors Guild of India has decided to make the issue of paid news in newspapers and news TV channels a focus area for 2010. (There is no link to the announcement on the Editors Guild site, believe it or not, so I link to a blog, churimuri, which has the entire text).
I wish Rajdeep Sardesai (the new president of the Guild) and all members of the Guild all the best.
Yes, I’m cynical.
The simple truth is, almost every single news publication/ channel is guilty of presenting paid for news as genuine news.
The truth also, is that the cost of running a newspaper/news magazine/ news TV channel is skyrocketing and revenues from advertising, the primary source of revenue, are nose-diving.
The advertising sales teams, when they see a soft and easy way to sell some space/time, are able to easily convince top management that selling ads packaged as bona fide edit is not too much of a crime.
Which brings us to the present moment, when the malaise is so deep-rooted that the Editors Guild is 'shocked and seriously concerned'.
If you ask me, the entire year will be wasted by the Guild because they are not the ones in control of the news-for-money problem. The policies on news-for-money are, by and large, dictated by the owners of the news organizations in conjunction with the ad sales teams. The editors can (and do) voice their objections – but that’s it. The objections are overridden and life, and the news-for-money practice, carries on, regardless.
The EGI is another example of a toothless body in Indian media. What can it do if newspapers, magazines and channels ignore the Guild? Zip.
It’s the media owners who need to meet and discuss the issue. It’s the media vehicles with the largest readership and viewership which need to "desist from publishing any form of advertisement which masquerade as news."
It doesn’t help that the statement, while staying neutral for the most part, picks on the "practice of "private treaties" where news organisations accept free equity in unlisted companies in lieu of promoting these companies through news columns and television news programmes", an obvious reference to The Times of India brand, Private Treaties, thereby alienating BCCL is one fell swoop.
It doesn’t help that the statement does not speak of the need to address corruption in journalism. This is as serious an issue (perhaps even more so) than the official, paid-by-cheque news-for-money deals. Journalists are directly in the control of the editors and this is an area where editors can, if they choose to, show a cleaner house.
It doesn’t help that the statement does not speak of the need to deal with biases that creep into editorial that damage the reputations and destroy careers, lives and businesses. There is, almost always, no redressal available to the 'victims'. When was the last time you heard of a newspaper or publication losing a case for defamation or slander?
The Guild’s statement might be well intentioned, but I cannot see it as anything more than tilting at windmills. Instead of setting oneself unattainable targets, set your sights on the victories that can be won by battles that you are equipped to fight.