The report of the two-member subcommittee comprising Paranjoy Guha Thakurta and K. Sreenivas Reddy set up by the Press Council of India (PCI) to examine the Paid News scandal was originally scheduled to be released on April 26, 2010.
Its release was then "deferred" -- and the report referred to a larger group of Council members who were to decide -- within three months -- by July 31, 2010 -- on how it should be presented because "some council members argued that it would destroy the publishers' credibility and hurt their long term interest".
We had published only excerpts from the report in our blogs as we hoped that by July 31 the full report would eventually see the light of day.
But, surprise surprise, on July 30, 2010, the PCI came out with a much watered down version of the report without any of the specifics detailed in the original which explicitly named newspapers and channels — including some of the biggest groups in the country — seen as having indulged in the “paid news” practice. The original report was reduced to a mere footnote ("The Council decided that the report of the Sub-Committee may remain on record of the Council as reference document").
This "reference document", which traces the emergence of the paid news phenomenon over years and phases was— despite many of the PCI members in the meeting on July 30 insisting on it— not even annexed to the "final report". It is not available even for "reference" on the PCI's website.
Perhaps those who drafted the "final report" did not see any irony in passages such as the following in it, also quoted in the press-release issued by the PCI on July 30:
“Sections of the media in India have willy-nilly become participants and players in such practices that contribute to the growing use of money power in politics which undermines democratic processes and norms – while hypocritically pretending to occupy a high moral ground. This has not merely undermined democracy in India but also tarnished the country’s reputation.”
As P. Sainath wrote in the Hindu:
The PCI has simply buckled at the knees before the challenge of “Paid News.” Its decision of July 30 to sideline its own sub-committee's report — which named and shamed the perpetrators of “paid news” — will go down as one of the sorriest chapters in its history. A chapter that will not be forgotten and the impact of which causes immeasurable damage to the fight against major corruption within the Indian media. A chapter that saw the PCI back down in the struggle against the suborning of the media by money power; though its “final report” pretends to fight it in a flood of platitudes. And a chapter that does grave damage to the image and credibility of the PCI itself. Leave aside for the moment the harm it has done to the public interest. Or to the future of the Indian media as a free and honest institution.
Mr Sainath concluded his piece by saying:
To say we have not suppressed the sub-committee's report, we have merely relegated it to our archive for reference, is to add infuriating insult to injury. To praise the authors of the original (as happened in its July 30 meeting) for their effort and then gut the result of that pioneering work, was hypocrisy of a high order. To then present the mangled remains as a guide to fighting paid news eclipses even that benchmark of insincerity. The public surely deserve better. Those publications and channels that were not part of this ugly enterprise of paid news ought to act. For a start, they can put up the “reference” document on their websites and call public attention to it with headlines, not footnotes.
So here it is. As a "reference document".
We hope to have more details about the sequence of events leading to the scuttling of this report as we are trying to cross-verify the names of those who, by a show of hands, voted in favour of the report being made public -- other than the PCI chairman and the two authors of the report -- and those who opposed it.
We learn that out of the 24 of the full 30 member PCI, who attended the July 30 meeting, 9 (including the chairman) were in favour of the report being annexed to the "final" report, 12 opposed it and 3 remained non-committal.
So, effectively, it was not just those who openly opposed but also the non-committal and absent members who allowed this report to be consigned to the archives rather than being made public officially.
At the same time, perhaps the only silver lining to the dark cloud is that at least nine out of 24 did want the report to be made public officially.
Also See: Outlook December 2009 cover story: News You Can Abuse