Mediaah! ‘Paid News’ needs detailing in PRB Act amendments

13 Nov,2013

By Pradyuman Maheshwari


The I&B ministry has invited suggestions to the amendments it has proposed to the Press and  Registration of Books Act (PRB Act), 1867. While many of these are welcome, among the changes that the MIB has made, there are two significant ones that still need some detailing.  Here are the changes I think should be added and I have taken the liberty of adding one more element that will cleanse the system:


1. The definition of a newspaper: While it’s good that the online editions of newspapers are now under the purview of the PRB Act, what about standalone online news entities? What about online entities that curate news from various online sources including newspapers? The PRB Act must also clearly include non-news entities like magazines and their websites. These magazines could be of the non-political variety (say: realty or business or films or even media)


2. Paid news:  The government is concerned about paid political news, but it should actually be having all forms of it under its scanner. Brands, parties, marriages, community/club news… whatever. Any news (text, pictures, video) that is published for reasons beyond an editorial discretion and because it’s paid for. Fine print placed next to the masthead of a supplement or tucked into the corner of a supplement’s front-page are not enough to label a part of the newspaper as a legitimate paid news offering. Since the paid news component is a part of the main paper and the average reader believes that content in the paid news section is selected in the same way as it gets done for the main paper, the undertaking/declaration must be prominently displayed on the Front Page of the main paper in a point size larger than what is used for the rest of the body matter on the page, in bold and boxed. All articles/reports/photographs/graphics must individually be clearly tagged ‘This report/pic/graphic/whatever is paid for by the advertiser’


3. Group news: One of the big problems that many media firms face is when their news gets blanked out by the big papers because their group has a similar entity. For instance, Newspaper X and Y don’t carry the news of Radio Station Z because X and Y also own radio stations. And ditto with events etc.  Will Times of India carry news of the Star Screen or IIFA awards when it has its own Filmfare and TOIFA? It was heartening to see TOI, HT and DNA carry the news of the India Today group conclave on Sachin and mention the India Today name in it, but these instances are few and far between. Failure to give fair coverage to news  just because it belongs to competition should be referred to whosoever is policing complaints on fall-out of cross-ownership.


There are some more changes in the PRB Act that the ministry is mulling – like a declaration on advertisements received as well as on the registration of an entity’s title. The last of these has relevance given the dispute between The Times of India and Financial Times over the Financial Times title.


The revised bill has been uploaded in the website of Ministry of Information & Broadcasting (home page – What’s new) on November 8, 2013. Suggestions have been invited by the ministry which may be sent to the Under Secretary (MUC), Room No.749, Ministry of Information and Broadcasting, ‘A’ Wing, Shastri Bhavan, New Delhi 110 001, Fax No 011-2338 7240, Email :  by November 19. In case no suggestions are received within the stipulated time, it will be presumed that the stakeholders are in agreement with the amendments of the bill.


Mediaah!’s view is that the government should not get into the business and conduct of news entities. However, in the absence of a self-regulator and given that the Press Council of India is toothless and often regressive, the government needs to step in to cleanse some of the ills in the system. The government can of course police the media since it grants various favours like cheaper land, DAVP ads and a variety of other concessions.


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