The ‘Paid News’ Conundrum
As stated in the book Journalism: Ethics and Responsibilities by Paranjoy Guha Thakurta and Ujwala Uppaluri, “The autonomy of the media is meant to facilitate greater accountability of public personalities and reduce corruption. But when the media itself indulges in corrupt practices, especially during election campaigns, it seriously undermines the processes and structures that are meant to uphold and strengthen democracy.”
The increasingly common practices of paid news and media organisations being subservient to a powerful few are established facts in most countries (90 per cent of American media is owned by just six companies) and it is no different in India, even with its hallowed status as the fourth estate. As per the Registrar of Newspapers in India, the total number of registered publications as on 31 March 2015 was 105,443, with Hindi and then English publications leading the way. The number of TV households in India is currently around 175 million and expected to touch 200 million by 2020. On paper, this may seem a vindication of the sheer volume and diversity of the Indian media. However, despite appearances of being robust, noisy and plural, the truth is that most of the media is dominated by a few large conglomerates who, in turn, are controlled by the country’s biggest corporates and influential politicians. Despite appearances of being robust, noisy and plural, the truth is that most of the media is dominated by a few large conglomerates who, in turn, are controlled by the country’s biggest corporates and influential politicians. As articulated in a 2013 TRAI report, the conflict of interest that arises due to this kind of skewed ownership results in paid news, continuous lobbying for favourable coverage (and suppression of negative news items), sensationalist news and propaganda, and proliferation of biased analysis and opinion pieces with little basis in facts.