On Tuesday morning, the Upper House of the Parliament raised concern over the growing menace of paid news. Most members present in the House, cutting across party lines, agreed that the issue of paid news which misleads readers was a matter of grave concern and thus should be discussed by the House.
Opposition members asked the government what measures it was planning to take to tackle the issue. They spoke of how publicity advertisements were being camouflaged as news in advertorial or response features.
Information and Broadcasting Minister Arun Jaitley stood up to respond to the House’s concern.
“Paid news is an aberration… we are all victims of paid news,” said Jaitley.
But he also warned that in checking the menace there was a danger of government action being construed as interference in free speech as commercial speech like advertisements also constitute part of free speech.
Jaitley said advertisement is the right of everyone but “when governments start excessively advertising, where is the dividing line between advertisement and bribery”.
“We want to get rid of (this) aberration,” he and also added that there will be a discussion in the House on the issue to find ways to deal with the problem.
The issue was first raised by BJP MP Vijay Goel during a zero hour submission. While highlighting the negatives of paid news, the BJP MP displayed a full page advertisement of AAP government in Delhi that displayed publicity material in the form of news.
He cited the example of the recently concluded odd-even scheme car rationing scheme of the Delhi government.
On day one people read how the plan had not affected pollution levels and the next day they read in the same paper how successful the scheme was, claimed Goel.
He also said the Press Council of India had not done anything on his complains about paid news and demanded that the government set up a Media Accountability Committee.
MPs from Congress, JD(U), Samajwadi Party, CPI(M) and even NDA ally SAD also objected to the menace.
Shiromani Akali Dal leader Naresh Gujral said elections had become expensive because of paid news and alleged that newspapers were now resorting to “blackmail”.
CPI(M)’s Sitaram Yechury called it a blot on democracy.
Deputy Chairman PJ Kurien agreed that it was a very serious issue and asked members to give notices for discussion on the issue.
(With inputs from PTI)