Fourth State

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SummaryThe spectre of paid news is back, and this time in a murkier form.

Governments now get into the paid news act. It’s high time for a lesson on ethics for all concerned

The spectre of paid news is back, and this time in a murkier form. Where the belief has long been that private companies pay newspapers and TV channels to ‘plant’ stories, it seems that even state governments aren’t above such unethical practices. According to an Indian Express exclusive, the Chhattisgarh government and several TV channels including Z24, Sahara Samay, ETV Chhattisgarh and Sadhna News have entered into a cosy system where the former pays the TV channels to produce ‘news stories’ and provide positive coverage of government programmes. Such is the level of comfort of all the parties concerned that, when Sahara Samay, in May 2010, presented a five-point proposal to the PR department of the Chhattisgarh government, stipulating the price of different sorts of news items (live telecast of the chief minister’s speeches at R48 lakh a year, ticker tape content for R60 lakh a year, side panel at R14.6 lakh a year, etc), this raised no alarms in the government. And, from the looks of it, it should come as no surprise that there was no adverse reaction to such a proposal. The Indian Express is in possession of nearly 200 documents, covering a span of about 5 years starting 2007, that contain proposals from TV channels to produce news stories, provide positive coverage, price negotiations, among others.

If the government is so keen to pay TV channels to carry favourable stories and provide coverage, what’s next? Paying viewers to watch the shows? The government and TV channels both need a lesson on ethics if they want to retain whatever little credibility they still have.

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