New Delhi: The Editors Guild of India has announced the formation of an ethics committee headed by T.N. Ninan, editor, Business Standard, to curb the practice of publishing advertisements masquerading as news.
The other members on the committee include veteran journalists B.G. Verghese, Sumit Chakravarty and Madhu Kishwar. The immediate task of the panel will be to frame a code of ethics in the context of the paid-news phenomenon.
“The Editors Guild already has a code of ethics but this will be a new draft specifically related to paid news,” Rajdeep Sardesai, president of the Editors Guild, told Mint. The decision to set up the committee was taken at the guild’s annual general meeting held on 22 December at which the body, representing Indian newspaper editors, condemned the increasing incidence of paid-for news in dailies across languages.
The controversy around paid news content gathered momentum after The Hindu first raised the issue in its report on the Maharashtra chief minister Ashok Chavan who spent a little over Rs11,000 on paid advertising but got coverage worth much more in newspapers such as the Maharashtra Times and Lokmat. Based on data compiled by media monitoring agency AdEx (a unit of TAM Media Research Private Ltd), Mint reported on 2 December that in the recent assembly elections in Maharashtra, advertising volume (in column cm) in Marathi newspapers declined by around one-fifth from 2004, suggesting the possibility of the increased incidence of advertisements disguised as news.
According to Sardesai, curbing paid news in newspapers will be the prime focus of the Editors Guild in 2010. “The code is being drafted and letters will be sent to all the newspapers and television channels to follow it. We will isolate organizations which do not follow the code,” he said.
To drive greater transparency, newspapers and television channels will have to clearly distinguish between news and advertisements with proper disclosure norms so that the reader or viewer is not tricked, Sardesai said.
The Guild will also push for transparency in news companies’ private treaties business, which involves the barter of equity in unlisted companies for advertising space or minutes. The Guild mandates that news organisations should disclose their commercial and equity interests in such companies for the benefit of their readers and viewers.