By Raza Elahi
The recent observation of WikiLeaks founder Julian Assange about the good prospect of Indian media is an acknowledgment of great effort on part of Indian media, which has expanded by leaps and bounds over the years. According to a rough estimate, daily readership of newspapers in the country is over 200 million, which is a world record in terms of gross reach. Similarly, the reach of electronic media is envious when compared with other countries.However, some of the recent developments have also raised questions over the role of media -- whether it has been living up to the social responsibilities and promoting the democratic, secular and pluralist values.
The Indian media has undoubtedly deviated from its objectives in the recent past. The trend like ‘paid news’ and the publication of the Niira Radia tapes on corporate-media nexus have made it important that media houses and media persons should make a self-critical assessment.
A few days back Chief Election Commissioner S Y Quraishi has also said ‘paid news’ during elections is one of its major challenges. The commission has been forced to intervene in the matter as the media has failed to regulate itself. The Election Commission had issued notices to 86 candidates with regard to ‘paid news’ during the Bihar election last year. Quraishi has conceded that the phenomenon of ‘paid news’ is very difficult to police.
According to the CEC, the problem of ‘paid news’ is best addressed by self-regulation by the media and political parties. But that is not happening.
The election commission is rightly concerned about the undue influence that ‘paid news’ can create on the minds of voters. The voters’ right to correct and unbiased information needs protection. There is a need for an internal news ombudsman in the press and the news channels in the country. The Radia tapes have widely compromised the independence and credibility of the media. The media houses need to put in place a code of practice.
It is also a high time for Editors Guild of India and Press Council of India to take more active role to check the phenomenon of ‘paid news’ and corporate-media nexus.
(The writer can be contacted at email@example.com)