Paid news in India
Paid news is a phenomenon in Indian media, that refers to the systematic engagement of mainstream media outlets in publishing favorable articles in exchange for payment. This type of news is typically sponsored by politicians, businessmen, and celebrities in order to improve their public image or accomplish political goals. Often such articles are carried under the name "Special report".
A 2018 Cobrapost sting meeting with Times Group MD Vineet Jain and Sanjeev Shah revealed that large cash transaction running into hundreds of crores are routinely channeled through white collar investment companies (in this case DSP a Mumbai based investment bank operated by Hemendra Kothari and Merrill Lynch) from political outfits and communal agencies to media houses who prefer to work through cheques.
Sponsors of paid news
Politicians sponsoring paid news
- Ashok Chavan, is a former Chief Minister of Maharashtra whose use of funds for paid news was questioned by the Election Commission of India in 2010. The Commission stated that, "The complaint against Mr. Chavan was that he arranged publication of news items, masquerading as advertisements, in newspapers praising him in the 2009 State Assembly elections and he had not properly accounted for the expenses in his election expenditure accounts. But he claimed that the newspapers on their own might have published complimentary stories on him."
- Narottam Mishra, a Cabinet Minister of Madhya Pradesh, who has been accused by the Election Commission of India, allegedly “failed to lodge his accounts of his election expenses in the manner prescribed by law” and was linked to 42 news items on him during the November 2008 state elections which “read more like election advertisements in favor of [him] alone rather than as news reports.”
- In October 2011, Umlesh Yadav became the first ever sitting Member of Legislative Assembly (MLA) to be disqualified for not declaring the expenditure incurred on advertising during her election campaign. Yadav, a member of Rashtriya Parivartan Dal, had been elected from Bisauli, Uttar Pradesh, in 2007. She was banned from contesting election for a period of three years by the Election Commission of India.
The Election Commission is reported to have identified more than 1,400 cases of paid news between 2009 and 2013, during which elections were held in 17 states of India. One person involved, Deepak Chaurasia, host of India News, is accused of being a promoter of paid news in India.
Businesses and celebrities sponsoring paid news and 'private treaties'
Bennett, Coleman and Co. Ltd, which owns the Times of India, is reported to have asked celebrities and the wealthy to pay for favorable coverage. They have offered a "private treaty" agreement, which accepts an equity stake in a company in return for favorable coverage. The New York Times described "private treaties" as an example of the commodification of business news. A New Yorker article says that the Times of India "have been dismantling the wall between the newsroom and the sales department" with Times MediaNet.
Similar practices by other media companies came to light as Jindal Steel filed litigation media company Zee News for allegedly demanding advertisements so as not to telecast shows in relation to the Indian coal allocation scam.
An older report by media critic The Hoot identified how "private treaties" influence reporting. However, the CEO designate of Times private treaties, in an interview with MediaNama, justified the practices as "there are two currencies for advertising – cash and treaties".
The Hoot's report named several companies besides Sobha Developers and Pyramid Saimira (now defunct) that participated in Times private treaties: Birla Power Solutions Ltd, Deccan Aviation, Pantaloon, Provogue, Spice Mobiles Limited, Videocon Industries Ltd, Deccan Aviation, India Infoline, The Home Store, Amity Education, Paramount Airways, Future Group, Sahara One, Precept Pictures etc.
Criticism of paid news
Some groups have criticized paid news including Bloomberg, who claimed that "paid news was rotting India's democracy." The Analytic Monthly Review has also criticized India's media problems to well known problems in the political economy after the adoption of neo-liberal policies.
In 2010, a two person panel of the Press Council of India investigated the phenomenon of paid news in India. This resulted in a detailed 72 page report citing names and instances where information that had been paid for had been passed off as genuine news. However, the Press council rejected their findings and published a shorter watered down version of the report.
In 2017 and 2018, sting operations by Cobrapost, an Indian investigative journalism news agency was publicized and its videos posted in public. The videos showed a journalist posing as an RSS person who approached popular television and news media channels to publish and telecast news that would publicize fake news, promote the BJP, communal issues, hindutva right wing ideology and vilify their political opponents. Nearly all the news channels agreed to the proposal, describing how they had themselves run campaigns to get the BJP elected.
- "News You can Abuse" Outlook, December 2009
- India : 'Paid news' scandal hits major newspapers The Guardian, UK, 4 January 2010.
- "Interview with Vineet Jain - Advertisements and runnign newspapers". Times of India.
- "India's dodgy 'paid news' phenomenon". The Guardian. Retrieved 5 June 2018.
- "Complete report on paid news". Press Council of India. Retrieved 3 July 2018.
- Media collusion with politicians, business weakens Indian democracy South China Morning Post, 3 July 2013
- Maharashtra CM Chavan Challenges EC on Paid News The Hindu, 21 July 2010
- 'Yes, we spent money on paid news ads' The Hindu, 30 January 2013
- "Why paid news is a threat to Indian democracy". 5 December 2013. Retrieved 14 December 2013.
- "EC detected over 1,400 paid news cases during Assembly polls", Lens On News, September 2013
- "Congress goes buying reporters in Chhattisgarh, offers ours Rs 25,000". Indian Express. 14 December 2013. Retrieved 14 December 2013.
- "In India, Sometimes News Is Just a Product Placement", Akash Kapur, 7 May 2010, The New York Times
- "Citizens Jain: Why India’s newspaper industry is thriving", Ken Auletta October 8, 2012, The New Yorker
- Steel company says it is suing the Subhash Chandra-owned network for Rs 200 crore, LiveMint.com
- "How private treaties influence reporting" Clifton D'Rozario, The Hoot, 17 June 2008
- “There Are Two Currencies For Advertising – Cash And Treaties; We’re Not Buying To Sell” Sivakumar, CEO Designate of Times Private Treaties, in an interview with MediaNama. June 2008
- 'Paid News' Is Rotting India's Democracy Bloomberg, 25 October 2011.
- "The Reality of Media in India " Analytical Monthly Review, Aug 2013
- "Report on paid news (30 July 2010)" (PDF). www.presscouncil.nic.in. Press council of India. Retrieved 3 July 2018.
- Thakurta, P.J.; Sreenivas Reddy, K (8 August 2010). "'Paid News': The Buried Report". Outlook. Retrieved 3 July 2018.
- India Media Buries Paid News Report India Real Time - WSJ, 18 June 2013.
- "Cobrapost Sting: Big Media Houses Say Yes to Hindutva, Black Money, Paid News". The Wire. 26 May 2018. Retrieved 5 June 2018.