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Letters from India
Selling News Space Culture in India: Concerns of Journalists
By Nava Thakuria
Special Correspondent
Maharashtra Chief Minister Ashok Chavan

Rapid commercialization of the mainstream media, degradation of media ethics and practices in the country and the subsequent eroding public trust and support to the entire media community were some of the relevant issues those were discussed in a media conference held in Mumbai on December 5 last.

The speakers in the annual general meeting of South Asian Free Media Association (India chapter) were also unanimous that the media in the entire region must come forward for paving way for an atmosphere for better understating among the people from different countries.

Though admitted about the limitation and also the nature of recent challenges facing by the media in the region in particular and then globe in general, the speakers claimed that the media must remain or stand a lone voice for the benefit of the common people in the coming days.

An official statement of the SAFMA India expressed serious concern, at the growing trend in the Indian media of selling news space, saying “The recent assembly elections in Maharashtra and elsewhere had revealed the spread of the pernicious practice of accepting money for giving editorial space to contestants. In fact, this evil had been perpetrated by instituationalising it.”

Addressing the audience, eminent journalist P Sainath elaborated the challenges for the media persons in India, where many of them are being forced to engage in some activities, which are not ethically acceptable to them. He claimed that the corporatisation of the media world has simply threatened the existence of free media.

“Now the newspaper owners are greatly influenced by the political clouts. And to entertain their growing demands, many media groups have even go for arranging extra space in the advantageous period,” Sainath, who is the rural affairs editor of The Hindu, said, adding that if the newspapers (also TV news channel) start receiving huge amount of money as advertisement, but in an improper way, the journalist-editors have hardly anything to do.

“I believe if a journalist wants to be corrupt, that is his choice. What I express concern that in many occasions, the reporter-journalist-editors are asked (or compelled) to do some activities, which they really don’t like to obey. But only because of the job, they do so and that way contributes in biased journalism,” Sainath stated.

He observes that the contract system of appointment of journalists by the media managements has affected the independence of media persons to a great extent. Sainath finally asserted, “Let’s finish the culture of ‘paid news’ in the media, otherwise it will finish us in the coming days.”

Sainath, while advocating legislation against such malpractices, emphasized on the strengthening the existing regulatory bodies like Press Council of India. He also opined that the Election Commission (of India) had a major role to play ‘in curbing misuse of the press and money power in politics.’

Inaugurated by the Maharashtra Chief Minister Ashok Chavan, the meet was attended by a number of eminent journalists from various parts of the country and also representatives from Pakistan and Bangladesh. In his inaugural speech, the Chief Minister Chavan urged the media persons from the region to play a greater role in paving way for an atmosphere of better friendship among various nations for sustainable partnership, growth and development.

Eminent Pakistani journalist Imtiaz Alam, while expressing his views, observed that the media in both India and Pakistan have to play responsible role while reporting bilateral issues.

“I observe that there are growing numbers of Indian experts on Pakistan and also Pakistani experts on India. Please do not believe them as they lack credibility,” said Alam.

The secretary general of SAFMA concluded his version saying, “Please don’t term Pakistan as an enemy nation. I say the same for the Pakistani journalists towards India as well. Our country is under tremendous threat from the terrorists. We expect some solidarity from the largest democracy in the world. Being a journalist, I feel we have to do more for the people of both the countries.”

Alam, also a renowned human right activist earlier offered his condolences to the victims and their families of the Mumbai tragedy (26/11). He concluded his remark emphasizing the need for resumption of dialogue between New Delhi and Islamabad for curbing terrorism and also all round development of the region.

The Bangladeshi journalist Reazuddin Ahmed made it a point that an inherent suspicion remained always intact with the people in general and the journalists in particular of South Asia. The editor of The News Today, an English daily published from Dhaka, emphasised more journalists to travel their neighbouring countries to understand relevant issues and report accordingly. He also appealed to the governments of the region to make relaxation to visa rules for the benefit of the travelling journalists.

The meet was also addressed by eminent Indian journalist-editors K K Katyal (president of SAFMA India), Kumar Ketkar (editor of Loksatta), Vinod Sharma (political editor of Hindustan Times), Om Thanvi (editor of Jansatta), Sreekant Khandekar with the former Union IB minister Ravi Shankar Prasad, film maker Madhur Bhandarkar and technocrat Sanjay Gaikowad, where they explained about the challenging days ahead of the media and also many survival strategies that might be adopted by the working journalists.

The annual general meeting was concluded with the election of news office bearers of organization, where S Nihal Singh (columnist) was selected as the president, Satish Jacob (former BBC broadcaster) as general secretary and Kumar Ketkar as its vice- president.

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Nava Thakuria, who serves as a special correspondent for The Seoul Times, is based in Guwahati of Northeast India. He also contributes articles for many media outlets based in different parts of the glove, and can be contacted at






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