This post has been self-published on Youth Ki Awaaz by Youth Ki Awaaz. Just like them, anyone can publish on Youth Ki Awaaz.

The Shocking Reality About Paid News And How The Media Is Silently Letting It Run [Part 2]

More from Youth Ki Awaaz

By ShiningPath and Bhanupriya Rao:

Last week, we endeavoured to shine some light on the 47th-PSCR and how it brilliantly captures the ridiculous descent of sections of the MSM from the lofty 4th pillaresque splendour to the venal 5th columnesque opprobrium. A careful reading of the PSCR leads one to infer that that some sections of the media have prostrated themselves at the altar of Mammon and have busied themselves fabricating layers of alternate realities while sipping on some philtre of distorted truth a.k.a Paid News.

Unfortunately – though not entirely unsurprisingly – the release of that report in May 2013 turned out to be a perfect non-issue for the imperturbable media gods as they displayed chicanery laden sang-froid wrapped inside a near-impregnable silence in the aftermath of this ruthless indictment.


How Paid News and the resounding silence surrounding it, mocks at democracy

Nevertheless, if one reads between the lines of the PSCR [and the PCI Sub-Committee Report], the ensuing deathly silence was an incontestable evidence of the ghost which, guffawing sardonically at an already emasculated democratic set-up, appears to have asphyxiated and corrupted the very soul of journalism. Furthermore, the term Paid News itself subverts the very notion of democracy, mocks at the idea of independence and objectivity of news reporting and belittles our sensibilities as consumers of news.

As if the silence surrounding this issue and the subsequent inaction by the I&B Ministry weren’t pointers to the ignoble intricacies of guilt-soaked hearts, an obnoxious miasma had already befouled the air somewhat two months prior to the release of the report when Law Ministry filed a counter affidavit in the Ashok Chavan vs. Madhav Kinhalkar case asserting that “the power of the Election Commission to disqualify a person arises only in the event of failure to lodge an account of expenses and not for any other reason, including the correctness or otherwise of such accounts.”

The Ashok Chavan case — now notorious as the Paid News scandal – refers to the alleged incorrect filing of election expenses by the former Maharashtra CM, wherein he came up with the magical figure of Rs. 11,379 as the expenditure incurred by him on his [2009] election advertising campaign. The Hindu, in a series of diligent exposes, went on to note that ‘Chavan’s achievements’ had received some extraordinarily dedicated coverage of at least 47 pages in the run-up to elections, including 4 full-page coloured supplements titled as ‘Ashok Parva’ and Vikas Parva. These paeans were swathed as ‘news’, understandably because the actual advertising cost would have run into a few crores. Curiously, many of these appeared in Lokmat, the fourth largest circulated daily [owned by the Dardas – Congress politicians; more on this later].

The opposition candidate Madhav Kinhalkar, on the other hand, faced a total black-out — an instance that corroborates the celebrated exclusionary tactics of media outlets as described in the PSCR as well as the PCI sub-committee report.

While Chavan may have been the poster boy of Paid News, his is by no means an isolated incidence. Ex-CM of Jharkhand, Madhu Koda is likewise trapped in a similar case. Sitting MLA Umlesh Yadav ultimately got disqualified on exactly the same grounds. The pandemic nature of this malpractice can be assessed from the fact that EC has identified 1400+ instances of Paid News in 17 assembly elections over the last 4 years.

In the entire ugly episode, however, the most discomfiting feature was that The Hindu’s meticulous expose of paid-news transactions hopelessly failed to elicit a faint murmur of guilt, let alone an apology from the media. In fact, what followed was an amusingly contradictory series of admissions of involvement by politicians and categorical refutations of the charges by newspapers. Hindustan Times, one of those named in The Hindu report, even went to the extent of exonerating itself as it took the elevator to the moral high ground and published a front page editorial titled ‘HT brings you real news not paid news’.

A sliver of hope for checking the menace comes from the EC which has set up an Election Expenses Monitoring Committee for the 2014 General elections. The Government has drafted an amendment to the Press and registration of Books Act, 1867 to check the Paid News menace in the upcoming winter session of Parliament. The draft of the Bill is open for public comment for the next 7 days. However, considering that there has been many a slip between the Draft and the Act, as the Lok Pal Bill farce for the last 40 years tells us, watching this one go further will be an amusing exercise.

Journalism that does not matter anymore
“Journalism can never be silent: that is its greatest virtue and its greatest fault. It must speak, and speak immediately, while the echoes of wonder, the claims of triumph and the signs of horror are still in the air.” ~Henry Anatole Grunwald

Certainly not in these times, when mal-governance has pervaded into every aspect of the polity, thereby attaining the exalted status of a surreal art form. Paid News is one tiny speck of what ails journalism and media today. The lofty ideals and ethics of journalism that are meant to seek truth, shape public opinion and fix accountability have been dutifully dumped into the trashcans in the newsrooms. Instead, newscasters hyperventilate on issues that the ‘Nation certainly does not want to know’ ad infinitum and the ‘Buck stops’ at entirely the wrong places, fixing fleeting accountability on the minions when those in high offices slither away scot-free.

Silence on issues that matter is both deafening and deliberate. Sounds of silence linger on where a cache of tapes, those of the ‘ii’ Radia fame, that expose nefarious deal-making in the governance of the country are so deeply buried in the necropolis, never to rise again, were it not for the honourable Supreme Court.

As Manu Joseph noted in his piece recently:

“It is possible to argue that everyone whom Niira Radia called from her phones was just stringing her along, the way an “innocent and gullible” television journalist and a sweet-talking” columnist claimed they did in the way of defending the substance of their conversations with a woman who was until recently a seemingly efficient lobbyist for Mukesh Ambani, Ratan Tata and others…Also, a lesson from the revealed fraction of the Radia Tapes is that the media is not necessarily an ally of the citizen anymore. In fact, those conversations were with the media for months… It was when the larger tranche of recordings carrying her conversations with prominent journalists was revealed that the story caught the nation’s attention. The media complicity was the entertaining prelude that brought home the deeper story of Radia’s dealings.

For days after Open and Outlook ran the transcripts and recordings, the mainstream media was so resolute in its pact of silence that Open taunted them in its print edition, at the risk of appearing a bit sanctimonious, by carrying two blank pages with a headline that said “this was how the Indian media had covered the Radia Tapes”.

Ironically, the silence and the closing of ranks by the media on Radiagate is in sharp contrast to the non-truths that are peddled with gusto where farmers’ suicides owing to Bt.Cotton in Maharashtra are airbrushed as ‘reaping rich gold by a national newspaper, helpfully sponsored by the Mahyco Mosanto Biotech [India] Ltd.

Issues such as the agrarian crisis, malnutrition, female infanticide and foeticide etc. that affect nearly 75% of the population do not find more than a passing mention. News is about entertainment, sleaze, outrage, titillation and ephemeral indignation [it lasts the duration of a TV News debate] — so much so that certain sections of the media have presumably taken it upon themselves to add some colour to what they possibly think is the dull grey sameness of ennui-infested lives being led by the audience.

Who sets the agenda? Newsrooms or Boardrooms?

“News is what someone wants suppressed. Everything else is advertising. The power is to set the agenda. What we print and what we don’t print matter a lot”. ~Katherine Graham

When Soni Sori’s brutal rape by Chhattisgarh police, the hounding of Ashok Khemka for exposing nefarious land deals of those in high non-offices or government high-handedness in amending the sunshine RTI Act don’t shake the citadels of power enough, the media has failed to set the agenda. When almost the entire news-making and corporate universe conspires to keep the Radia tapes out of public domain, we know that public interest is nowhere close to being the centre of the agenda.

How could it be when boardrooms and not newsrooms set the agenda? A relationship that has killed the autonomy of the editor and blurred the lines between ownership and editorial roles as envisaged by the mighty Murdoch.

As Justice P.B.Sawant [former Chairman, PCI] noted recently:

“The corporate-owned and dominated media-houses have their journalists on the leash, and many times appoint them only to fill the post…many do not mind being the call-boys of the management. It is common knowledge that the views injurious to the interests of the owners, their friends, political patrons, the advertiser and co-businessmen are not allowed to be published, and the editors have to submit to the management policy from time to time.”

The slaying of Sidharth Vardarajan of The Hindu at the altar of ownership tussle suggests how unprofessionally run the editorial aspect of news production is, even while propounding the values of editorial autonomy. One is left in no doubt when Sameer Jain, the proprietor of the TOI declares that newspapers are mere commodities, perhaps, a reason why the daily has dispensed with the role of an overall editor. Why bother when, as Elbert Hubbart noted “An editor’s job is to separate wheat from the chaff and see that the chaff is printed.” Anyone could do that job.

Media’s moral universe has been painted with the Murdoch brush where politics meets business meets media in what appears to be a steamy ménage a trois. The entry of large corporate groups like Reliance [Network 18, Eenadu], AV Birla group [Living Media], Future Group [Deccan Chronicle], Oswal group [NDTV] etc., bailing out ailing media companies with the much needed cash injection and acquiring huge stakes has blurred the already obfuscated lines between content providers, distributors and advertisers resulting in loss of media plurality.

Paranjoy Guha Thakurta observes the phenomena of ‘cartelisation of media’ whereby these conglomerates are creating oligopolies and as large advertisers themselves, increasing the clout of advertisers. All forms of registered media put together, i.e. newspapers [82,000], TV [800 of which 300 are news channels] and FM [250] are owned by less than 100 conglomerates that set the agenda for news in the country.

Throw in the political class, a la Shobhana Bhartiya of HT, Chandan Mitra of Pioneer, the Dardas of Lokmat, Sun TV of DMK, Sakshi TV of Jagan Reddy and the cocktail gets even heady. A media outlet is not just aspirational but almost instrumental to the propaganda and business models of politicians if the ownership patterns are any indication.

Who controls Media?

Earlier this year, Newslaundry had done an infographic titled “Who own your media” depicting the complex yet telling maze of ownership involving corporate and political interests. Whilst ownership patterns by themselves can’t be taken as irrefutable signs of rot in the media, it is a worrisome factor nonetheless.

On a similar note, here are a few Media Outlets with political links:


For a more comprehensive list, click here [The Hoot].

TRAI notes with particular concern “political parties either directly or indirectly through surrogates control newspapers, TV and distribution systems.” It also points out that the “inherent conflict of interest which arises from uncontrolled ownership in the media sector gives rise to manifestations of (i) paid news (ii) corporate and political lobbying (iii) propagation of biased analyses in the political arena as well as corporate sector (iv) irresponsible reporting leading to sensationalism.”

One only has to hear transcripts from the eminently entertaining Radia tapes to understand how political, media and corporate interests collide. In one recording, Mr.N.K Singh, an esteemed MP tells Ms Radia of the fire fighting he is doing on behalf of Mr. Mukesh Ambani to ensure a tax concession the finance minister had announced in the 2009 budget for gas production is made applicable retrospectively.

The corporatisation of the media takes it up a notch from deciding policy to determining how and what we see and hear, and more importantly, what gets exposed.

The most recent TRAI consultation paper, the third such in the last 4 years, makes strong recommendations for the structural safeguards like restrictions on cross-media ownerships, along the lines of the two-out-of three principle’ for conglomerates both vertically [content providers and distributors] and horizontally [all forms of media in a geography]. It recommends that a broadcaster should not have control over distribution and vice versa and calls for Merger and Acquisition guidelines to be put in place to prevent media concentration of significant market power.

These constructive suggestions have been dumped into the deepest oblivion where all other progressive recommendations reside presently. Media noise in the form of regular updates, meaningful analysis and well intentioned debates can serve as trigger that propels the I&B ministry to take cognizance of the same. Unfortunately, the silence of the watchdog is creating an existential crisis for the spirit of journalism, strengthening the shackles of corporate slavery and endangering freedom of press.

However, we do believe that acknowledging the evils extant in the hallowed portals of the Fourth Estate would be the first step towards reinstating some idealism back into this noble profession.

Furthermore, the troika of corporate Czar, Media God(dess) and Elected Repress-entative would do the nation a huge service by reflecting on why India is slipping abysmally on Press Freedom rankings, as briefly touched upon in the concluding section below.

World Press Freedom Index
The Press Freedom Index is arrived at by tabulating responses collected along 6 broad areas:
– Human Rights violations against journalists and media organisations
– Media Legal Status
– Legal Status of Journalists
– Pluralism and Editorial independence (1)
– Legal doctrine and practice
– The internet and technical resources

(1) [Readers can click here to see the aspects that have been covered under each of the 6 broad areas listed above; we urge you to pay close attention to the 18 questions under the section ‘Pluralism and Editorial Independence’].

India, which had been ranked 120th on Press Freedom globally [2004], has slipped further to 140th position in 2013 — it keeps company with nations like Ethiopia, Bangladesh, Congo, Cambodia, Libya, Oman and Palestine.

A quick overview of how India has fared over the years:


To make matters worse, the scores on the 2010 Edelman Trust Barometer [Media] are equally worrying. And we quote:

“This year’s study shows a sharp drop over the past two years in trust in TV news from 61% to 36%, business magazines from 72% to 47%, newspapers from 61% to 40%”

In similar vein, the PCI’s Sub-committee Report [2010] had noted:

“In another survey conducted by the Readers’ Digest in March 2010, called the Trust Survey, 750 Indians were asked to rank the short-listed individuals belonging to different professions. Journalists were ranked 30 out of the 40 professionals listed and were placed next only to barbers and bus drivers”.

The situation appears to have improved marginally since then [Edelman Trust Barometer Report, 2013] but the stakeholders who are responsible for the credibility of a vibrant media have miles to go before what increasingly looks like the 5th column is suitably restored to its original avatar — that of the 4th pillar.

In the words of P. Sainath, what we need is journalism of dissent – fuelled by some idealism – that refuses to be reduced to ‘stenography of the powerful’. But for that to happen, it is imperative that the MSM first egresses out of its comfort zone and initiates the uncomfortable debate on the pestilence that certain sections of the media are plagued with — not an impossible task, is it? All it needs is a pinch of intent, a dash of resolve, courage to acknowledge the fact that structural flaws exist …….and truck-loads of some good old thumos.

About the authors: Shining Path [@ShiningPath1] is a regular blogger on FirstPost while Bhanupriya [@bhanupriyarao] is an Open Data & Transparency campaigner and works with The Web Foundation. They can be reached on respectively.

You must be to comment.
  1. control (@hadron_tachyon)

    Infinitely informative piece. Many thanks!

    The big question now is – is the MSM ready to shake the citadels of power?

    1. shocking_saga

      Depends on how far the rabbit hole they have strayed…. i guess.
      The need of the hour is for all true scribes to unite and fight this malady on war footing.
      However the breed that graces the top echelons of the MSM leaves little scope for hope to take shape.
      The picture appears pretty dreary and dark.
      The successful attempt at bullying the PCI into burying the report is a proof that ‘course correction’ is not in their agenda.
      How many paid news make to the breaking news slot?
      How many debates on this issue have taken place?
      No Sir, they seem to have gone completely blind, hence can’t see the ugly truth mirrored all around them.
      Those who see are punished. latest victim Hartosh Singh Bal!

  2. shocking_saga

    This is truly shocking! One always attributed the mess to rogue individuals in the journalistic fraternity.But the fact that it is well organised crime syndicate sends chill down the spine. News, views all for sale!
    No wonder there is sameness of news content, opinions,headlines in MSM. The corporatization of the media has caused serious dent to democracy.
    Naveen Jindal case was not an isolated incident after all but a norm one is forced to conclude.
    Kudos tot he authors for this piece . Also many thanks to YKA for publishing this awesome, enlightening article.

  3. Kavi Verma

    Is no less than mafiosi organized crime against our fundamental rights ..

  4. balayogi

    I read with interest your excellent article which captures the entire gamut of media menace. As a former freelance journalist in the late 80s it actually pains me to see media corrupting the society more than any other domain, I would rate even politicians only second to them because these people corrupt the minds of children, youth and all pseudo intellectuals.
    Media, the popular ones have become a real malign cancer and the best way to fight their lies, though a tedious one, could be printing counter pamphlets with truth and distribute house to house to those who do not use the net and to the rest through social media.
    Here are some of my postings on the net in the past few years about media. [ this I wrote in 1990]

  5. ModifyIndia

    Thank you for this well-researched and insightful articles. The details shared here have been eye-opening and are indeed not mentioned by the mainline media often enough. It will be a shame for the country if this nuisance is allowed to go on and deteriorate further.

  6. anirudh

    Brilliant article .Its the distraction strategy that seems to be working in the free market system .Divert public attention from important issues and changes decided by political and economic elites by flooding continuous insignificant information.

  7. personal finance blogs india

    My spouse and I stumbled over here from a different
    web page and thought I may as well check things out.
    I like what I see so i am just following you. Look forward
    to checking out your web page for a second time.

More from Youth Ki Awaaz

Similar Posts

By Atypical Advantage

By Ritwik Trivedi

By Ecochirp Foundation

Wondering what to write about?

Here are some topics to get you started

Share your details to download the report.

We promise not to spam or send irrelevant information.

Share your details to download the report.

We promise not to spam or send irrelevant information.

An ambassador and trained facilitator under Eco Femme (a social enterprise working towards menstrual health in south India), Sanjina is also an active member of the MHM Collective- India and Menstrual Health Alliance- India. She has conducted Menstrual Health sessions in multiple government schools adopted by Rotary District 3240 as part of their WinS project in rural Bengal. She has also delivered training of trainers on SRHR, gender, sexuality and Menstruation for Tomorrow’s Foundation, Vikramshila Education Resource Society, Nirdhan trust and Micro Finance, Tollygunj Women In Need, Paint It Red in Kolkata.

Now as an MH Fellow with YKA, she’s expanding her impressive scope of work further by launching a campaign to facilitate the process of ensuring better menstrual health and SRH services for women residing in correctional homes in West Bengal. The campaign will entail an independent study to take stalk of the present conditions of MHM in correctional homes across the state and use its findings to build public support and political will to take the necessary action.

Saurabh has been associated with YKA as a user and has consistently been writing on the issue MHM and its intersectionality with other issues in the society. Now as an MHM Fellow with YKA, he’s launched the Right to Period campaign, which aims to ensure proper execution of MHM guidelines in Delhi’s schools.

The long-term aim of the campaign is to develop an open culture where menstruation is not treated as a taboo. The campaign also seeks to hold the schools accountable for their responsibilities as an important component in the implementation of MHM policies by making adequate sanitation infrastructure and knowledge of MHM available in school premises.

Read more about his campaign.

Harshita is a psychologist and works to support people with mental health issues, particularly adolescents who are survivors of violence. Associated with the Azadi Foundation in UP, Harshita became an MHM Fellow with YKA, with the aim of promoting better menstrual health.

Her campaign #MeriMarzi aims to promote menstrual health and wellness, hygiene and facilities for female sex workers in UP. She says, “Knowledge about natural body processes is a very basic human right. And for individuals whose occupation is providing sexual services, it becomes even more important.”

Meri Marzi aims to ensure sensitised, non-discriminatory health workers for the needs of female sex workers in the Suraksha Clinics under the UPSACS (Uttar Pradesh State AIDS Control Society) program by creating more dialogues and garnering public support for the cause of sex workers’ menstrual rights. The campaign will also ensure interventions with sex workers to clear misconceptions around overall hygiene management to ensure that results flow both ways.

Read more about her campaign.

MH Fellow Sabna comes with significant experience working with a range of development issues. A co-founder of Project Sakhi Saheli, which aims to combat period poverty and break menstrual taboos, Sabna has, in the past, worked on the issue of menstruation in urban slums of Delhi with women and adolescent girls. She and her team also released MenstraBook, with menstrastories and organised Menstra Tlk in the Delhi School of Social Work to create more conversations on menstruation.

With YKA MHM Fellow Vineet, Sabna launched Menstratalk, a campaign that aims to put an end to period poverty and smash menstrual taboos in society. As a start, the campaign aims to begin conversations on menstrual health with five hundred adolescents and youth in Delhi through offline platforms, and through this community mobilise support to create Period Friendly Institutions out of educational institutes in the city.

Read more about her campaign. 

A student from Delhi School of Social work, Vineet is a part of Project Sakhi Saheli, an initiative by the students of Delhi school of Social Work to create awareness on Menstrual Health and combat Period Poverty. Along with MHM Action Fellow Sabna, Vineet launched Menstratalk, a campaign that aims to put an end to period poverty and smash menstrual taboos in society.

As a start, the campaign aims to begin conversations on menstrual health with five hundred adolescents and youth in Delhi through offline platforms, and through this community mobilise support to create Period Friendly Institutions out of educational institutes in the city.

Find out more about the campaign here.

A native of Bhagalpur district – Bihar, Shalini Jha believes in equal rights for all genders and wants to work for a gender-equal and just society. In the past she’s had a year-long association as a community leader with Haiyya: Organise for Action’s Health Over Stigma campaign. She’s pursuing a Master’s in Literature with Ambedkar University, Delhi and as an MHM Fellow with YKA, recently launched ‘Project अल्हड़ (Alharh)’.

She says, “Bihar is ranked the lowest in India’s SDG Index 2019 for India. Hygienic and comfortable menstruation is a basic human right and sustainable development cannot be ensured if menstruators are deprived of their basic rights.” Project अल्हड़ (Alharh) aims to create a robust sensitised community in Bhagalpur to collectively spread awareness, break the taboo, debunk myths and initiate fearless conversations around menstruation. The campaign aims to reach at least 6000 adolescent girls from government and private schools in Baghalpur district in 2020.

Read more about the campaign here.

A psychologist and co-founder of a mental health NGO called Customize Cognition, Ritika forayed into the space of menstrual health and hygiene, sexual and reproductive healthcare and rights and gender equality as an MHM Fellow with YKA. She says, “The experience of working on MHM/SRHR and gender equality has been an enriching and eye-opening experience. I have learned what’s beneath the surface of the issue, be it awareness, lack of resources or disregard for trans men, who also menstruate.”

The Transmen-ses campaign aims to tackle the issue of silence and disregard for trans men’s menstruation needs, by mobilising gender sensitive health professionals and gender neutral restrooms in Lucknow.

Read more about the campaign here.

A Computer Science engineer by education, Nitisha started her career in the corporate sector, before realising she wanted to work in the development and social justice space. Since then, she has worked with Teach For India and Care India and is from the founding batch of Indian School of Development Management (ISDM), a one of its kind organisation creating leaders for the development sector through its experiential learning post graduate program.

As a Youth Ki Awaaz Menstrual Health Fellow, Nitisha has started Let’s Talk Period, a campaign to mobilise young people to switch to sustainable period products. She says, “80 lakh women in Delhi use non-biodegradable sanitary products, generate 3000 tonnes of menstrual waste, that takes 500-800 years to decompose; which in turn contributes to the health issues of all menstruators, increased burden of waste management on the city and harmful living environment for all citizens.

Let’s Talk Period aims to change this by

Find out more about her campaign here.

Share your details to download the report.

We promise not to spam or send irrelevant information.

A former Assistant Secretary with the Ministry of Women and Child Development in West Bengal for three months, Lakshmi Bhavya has been championing the cause of menstrual hygiene in her district. By associating herself with the Lalana Campaign, a holistic menstrual hygiene awareness campaign which is conducted by the Anahat NGO, Lakshmi has been slowly breaking taboos when it comes to periods and menstrual hygiene.

A Gender Rights Activist working with the tribal and marginalized communities in india, Srilekha is a PhD scholar working on understanding body and sexuality among tribal girls, to fill the gaps in research around indigenous women and their stories. Srilekha has worked extensively at the grassroots level with community based organisations, through several advocacy initiatives around Gender, Mental Health, Menstrual Hygiene and Sexual and Reproductive Health Rights (SRHR) for the indigenous in Jharkhand, over the last 6 years.

Srilekha has also contributed to sustainable livelihood projects and legal aid programs for survivors of sex trafficking. She has been conducting research based programs on maternal health, mental health, gender based violence, sex and sexuality. Her interest lies in conducting workshops for young people on life skills, feminism, gender and sexuality, trauma, resilience and interpersonal relationships.

A Guwahati-based college student pursuing her Masters in Tata Institute of Social Sciences, Bidisha started the #BleedwithDignity campaign on the technology platform, demanding that the Government of Assam install
biodegradable sanitary pad vending machines in all government schools across the state. Her petition on has already gathered support from over 90000 people and continues to grow.

Bidisha was selected in’s flagship program ‘She Creates Change’ having run successful online advocacy
campaigns, which were widely recognised. Through the #BleedwithDignity campaign; she organised and celebrated World Menstrual Hygiene Day, 2019 in Guwahati, Assam by hosting a wall mural by collaborating with local organisations. The initiative was widely covered by national and local media, and the mural was later inaugurated by the event’s chief guest Commissioner of Guwahati Municipal Corporation (GMC) Debeswar Malakar, IAS.

Sign up for the Youth Ki Awaaz Prime Ministerial Brief below