Should editors be liable for ads his/her news entity carries?

16 Jan,2017

Should an editor be liable for the ads his/her news entity carries? The questions warrants discussion and an answer given the legal tangle Kingshuk Nag, senior journalist, author and former Times of India Hyderabad editor finds himself in.

Read his letter and send us your comments at editor@mxmindia.com. We will not reveal your identity if you’d like.

Here’s the letter, published as is, with no changes made:

 

Mr. Raj Chengappa,

Chairman, Editors’ Guild of India

New Delhi.

 

Dear Raj:

 

Can an Editor be charge-sheeted for misdeeds allegedly committed by advertisement department of the periodical that he edits?

At first glance this would appear to be preposterous proposition, but I have been charge-sheeted by the Hyderabad Police on thewrong  premise that it is the Editor who controls the operations of the advertisement department.

The facts of the case are as follows:

The Central Crime Station (CCS) of the Hyderabad Police filed a FIR against me and some others (no 324 on 12/12/1914) under section 120 (B) (criminal conspiracy), section 379 (theft) andsection 467 (forgery of valuable security) of the Indian Penal Code (IPC). This was allegedly for ‘stealing’ some advertisements that came out in a rival newspaper and reproducing them in our own paper.

 

After investigating the case for nearly two years, the Assistant Commissioner of Police (ACP) of CCS has now filed a charge-sheet in the court of XII Additional Chief Metropolitan Magistrate at Hyderabad. The sections of law under which the FIR was registered have now been altered.

Now I (and some others) have been charged for violating Section 63 of The Copyright Act (1957). If the charges are proven I will be liable for a punishment that is not less than six months of imprisonment and which can extend to 3 years. A fine of not less than Rs 50,000 and which may extend to Rs 3 lakhs can also be levied on me.

This letter has not been written for expressing my grouse against the police. Lawyers whom I have consulted told me that under The Press and Registration of Books (PRB) Act, 1867, the Editor notified under the Act and whose name is carried in the imprint line, is responsible for all matter carried under in the newspaper whether it is news, views, advertisement or something else. So is the publisher and the same is the case with the printer.

I was the Editor (under the PRB Act) of the Hyderabad edition of The Times of India from July 2005 till September 30 2016, when I superannuated on reaching the age of 58. Earlier on between May 2000 and June 2005, I was the Editor (under the PRB Act) of the Ahmedabad edition of The Times of India.

 

Coming back to the case mentioned above, it will be fought in the court of law on behalf by my lawyer and as they say, law will take its own course. I have no problem with is.

My real problem is that the PRB Act is of 1867 vintage and the world has changed since then. Probably the Editor in those days was the master of all he surveyed. But this certainly is not the case today.

As the world has changed, so has the economics of newspaper production and management. Because a newspaper that costs Rs 25 to produce is sold at Rs 5 or less, managements have increasingly taken recourse to advertisements to rake in revenues. These advertisement revenues go a long way in subsidizing the price of a newspaper for a consumer.But it also a fact that faced with pressure, certain publications resort to practices that can be termed as “paid news”. Stating it in general terms, ‘paid news’ are advertisements that are masquerading as ‘news’. While an advertisement is upfront, the ‘paid news’ deceives the reader because he thinks he ‘consuming’ genuine news.

This letter is not to focus on the practice of ‘paid news’ but to point out that the Editor may be powerless to stop this practice yet he is liable for all the ‘paid news’ appearing in the periodical that he may edit. This is notwithstanding that some of the ‘paid news’ may violate various sections of law. The Editor is also responsible under law for all the advertisements published never mind that he has no control over their publication.

Whatever be the case, there is need for looking once again at the PRB Act put in place a new Act that provides a contemporary realistic legal architecture to govern the operations of periodicals, including the role of the Editor.

Needless to assert it is the business of the law makers to put in place a new framework for managing newspaper and periodicals. But in my humble opinion it is the job of the Editors’ Guild of India, as an important stakeholder, to flag the issue and initiate an internal debate amongst members and other respectable members of the press on this matter.

My communication is to earnestly request you to start a debate on this very important subject. Believe me you will be doing our profession, a great favour.

 

Sincerely,

 

Kingshuk Nag

Dated: 12 January 2017

Email id and telephone number have been blanked out – Ed

 

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