Have you gone insane? I am expecting this very question from my readers. No, I am not. Am I also proposing to legalize bribe, prostitution or theft? No, not yet. The focus of this short post is to simply propose and justify that every body is a winner in legalization of paid news. I am not exactly a self-less ideologue, I rather view myself as a pragmatist. So before conservatives call me ultra-liberal and liberals call me immoral, I would request them to think through the arguments.

Former Justice Markandeya Katju thundered: No doubt, if the media proves incorrigible, harsh measures may be required, but in my opinion that should be resorted to only as a last resort and in extreme situations. While Sri Katju often demonstrated his penchant for socialism and authoritarianism, what he proposed in the press council meet found many takers including those whom I consider sane minds. Now, step back and think for a moment about the “harsh measure”. What does that mean? Who is supposed to take this harsh meansure? Government? Granted that media is not doing the job democracy requires them to do, yet it can not be denied that tabloids in disguise are a business enterprise and as long as they are not breaking any law, so called “harsh measures” directly means sort of a twisted class war. If consumers dont like what these rags are publishing or the type of dish bing served in the news channels, they should find alternative medium of news, there are other choices.

Having said that I admit paid news is deeply disturbing. However, there is no serious change in the way Indian media interacts with the rest of the world in the light of revealations of Radia tapes. The so called self regulation of Indian media has proven to be so sharp that it does not exist. Forget the constitutional responsibility of the media, media does not even behave like a proper business house, it behaves like a cartel. Wow, that is a big allegation, you will say. Look at News Broadcasters Association and reach a conclusion yourself. Free businesses do not consult between themselves on what to publish. Apparently what one partner in the cartel finds hot, soon others will latch on it. It does not matter if the current hot trend is some actress’s dress or carnival in Brazil or payment to promote some incompetent hack from a political dynasty, all partners in the cartel has their fingers on it (Oh some media owners call this understanding of people’s taste).

Sagarika Ghose’s latest tweets already claimed that English language media is far less corrupt than regional media. This may be true, but nobody noticed her tacit and indirect admission of guilt on behalf of her industry. Even an year back, this was beyond imagination. The fact that all media houses will not take cash for news is an utopia. If a journalist sees others in modern India making money, why would not they want to make it?

So what is the way out of paid news mess? It is not right that government should intervene. If there is any entity that has consistently proven itself to be incompetent in India for the last sixty years, it is the government. More government intervention means more money will be handed over to some bureaucrat with their own load on public treasury. The cartel would turn any self regulation scheme into a meeting where the main agenda would be to fix the date of the next meeting. Therefore, it is my suggestion to turn paid news into a legally accepted process.

But, you will say, what about independent media? Yes, what about them? If they try to exist without resorting to paid news, their competition will eliminate them since the unscrupulous competitiors have access to a hidden source of revenue. If, paid news is legally accepted, publicly traded big fat media companies have to publish this as a source of income. So their consumers will know how much they are making through this source and government can tax it accordingly. Then it’s consumers will suspect that every item in that paper or channel is paid in some way. Eventually, the media companies have to identify the news that is paid in some way if they have to retain this “we-bring-you-news-as-it-is-happening” facade. That way, everyone wins. The consumer finally has a way to estimate the trust-ability of the news source. Newspapers and journalists may finally look at the mirror at the end of the day. Last but not the least, you the middle class consumer can go to a media house and demand a news item of your liking with a fixed price.

Is not that a freedom? I say bring it on, baby!!

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Siddhartha Chatterjee

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