Wikipedia defines "Paid news" as...
"A phenomenon in Indian media that refers to the systematic engagement of mainstream media outlets in publishing favourable articles in exchange for payment."
But is that enough? Is that the only form of paid news? Can only payment in cash be considered paid news? What about payment in kind and other forms?
Here are 10 ways of defining paid news if we expand the concept...
1. Suitcase journalism: This is a straightforward way of accepting a suitcase of cash in exchange of good media coverage. Very difficult to prove. Tens of thousands of crores of rupees in bribes exchange hands in India and it is curious that very rarely does anyone get caught.
Sure there are a few stings here and there but most bribes go unnoticed. Journalists who accept money very rarely have been caught.
2. P&P journalism: P&P stands for perks and privileges. This is done in broad daylight but somehow nobody can do anything. Like so many Lutyens’ bungalows land up with senior editors.
A prominent business daily had brought this to light and had promised to release the names of such editors but unsurprisingly did not do so.
Then there are chairmanships, committee memberships and many other government posts which may be offered to the journalist or to his family in exchange for positive coverage.
3. Access journalism: What if a reporter is very good friends with a minister. No money or perks are exchanged, but they reach an understanding.
The reporter will show the minister only in good light while the minister will regularly leak plum stories to the reporter and also set up things like putting him on the Prime Minister's plane during a foreign trip where he has a luxurious time and interacts with bureaucrats with even more stories.
The minister and reporter regularly wine and dine together with the former always footing the bill.
4. "Relative" journalism: Here the journalist's parent/spouse/relative is in a political party. The journalist strongly espouses the cause of the political party and his relative gets all the benefits.
5. Exchange journalism: A large corporate buys large stakes in a large media house. The media house shows the government in good light all the time and in return the government gives concessions, benefits and land at cheap rates to the corporate house.
A media house may also get the shares of a company it shows in good light.
6. Ad-based journalism: The amount of ads that the central and State governments give to newspapers and TV news channels is not funny.
It can any time threaten to pull the ad plug. The same applies to large corporates giving ads too. Since both money (paid for the ads) and favourable coverage is involved, it also is a form of paid news.
7. Blackmail journalism: Imagine if a business reporter does a really negative story against a large corporate house. He shows it to them and says that he will withhold publication if he gets shares at low prices for his parent/spouse.
How do you prove this peculiar case when no story was published in the first place and the reporter didn't directly take money?
8. Junket journalism: Companies spend large amounts of money flying journalists all across the world and putting them up at five star hotels.
In return journalists right favourable reports. Is this not a form of paid news?
9. Campaign journalism: Elections in India see a huge amount of black money being spent. Candidates give money for articles/news items for favourable coverage.
The reader cannot distinguish between actual and paid news. Somehow this is the only form of paid news that is discussed and it is not even the tip of the iceberg.
10. Subsidy journalism: Did you know that the newspaper you read every day actually costs Rs 50-60 and most of it is paid for by the government in the form of newsprint subsidy.
Many newspapers were given land/buildings at throwaway prices in terms of long-term leases. The reason why newspapers all across the world are collapsing but not in India is because of this. But why is the government paying so much money to keep corrupt media houses afloat?
If any government removed all these subsidies would they be viciously attacked non-stop by the media?
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The author is a Bangalore-based journalist and blogger. He blogs here