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Monthly Archives: December 2010

Below are some questions from surekhapillai (An independent PR consultant).  The discussion is on paid news. I have written a short note on my own experience in the Industry

Questions from @surekhapillai on twitter

Q1: suggestions to help distinguish between advertorials and news reports.

Q2: suggestions on practical disclosure norms that could be adopted by media companies.

Q3: suggestions on separating management from the editorial. how to safeguard independence of the editor?

Q4: declaring #paidnews as a corrupt practice or electoral malpractice; making it a punishable offence. what punishment?

Q5: qualifications for selection of media professionals by PCI to form a body to investigate complaints of instances of paid news.

Q6: the report suggests PCI should initially focus only on #paidnews during the last lok sabha elections. do you agree? why/why not?

Q7: how do we educate the voters (and readers in general) to differentiate between #paidnews and balanced reporting?

My experience in the PR industry:

There is a clear line of distinction between paid news and advertorial. Someone who has been in the media/ PR industry can say it apart with just a look.

Advertorial might not be a punishable offence. However, advertorials do bring in a lot of bucks to the media house and this is quiet rampant both in electronic and paid medium. In case of an advertorial, the editor never comes in to the picture. It’s usually the advertisement dept of a media house that looks over such things. An advertorial must clearly state that “It’s a marketing feature’. For example, Times of India has space slotted for ‘HEALTH AND WELLNESS MARKETING’. It’s been a while since I have read Times of India and not sure if it still exists. But let me tell you to get an article of 500 words published in that feature, it costs no less than 2-3 lakhs. When I was new to PR, I always used to mark those articles as ‘Industry news’ for a healthcare client of mine. And my boss would tell me that it does not qualify as NEWS and I don’t have to add it on the report. I saw a recent advertorial (2 page) in tehelka and was curious to know how much it would have cost. I later learnt that it was around ten lak!

Paid news is an offence. This is bound to happen when an organization/CEO/PR agency/PR consultant knows the journalist/editor too well. As a PR person myself I have seen cases where journalists have done stories just for the sake of good will. The client usually calls in for a media dinner, sponsors a foreign trip and gets some coverages done. This was what happened in the classic case of Pyramid Saimira, though it involved other parties as well (SEBI, in this case). The PR agency worked hard to get coverages and show that the organization booming in prosperity because the agency was paid a ransom for PR services. (The PR agencies contacts did help in getting ‘good’ coverage. I am not certain whether they were or not aware of the behind the scene happenings)

In this case however the readers were NOT AWARE that the news is not balanced/true/distorted. The readers certainly trusted the PINK paper. It’s only surprising that the editor never took notice or even suspected as to what went it to the paper.

PAID NEWS is deceit.

A publication should not give away EDITORIAL space for SALE in a way that would look just like a NEWS STORY carried out by special correspondent/principal correspondent.

It’s heartening to see that the PCI has taken steps to keep paid news in check during the elections. That itself is not enough. There are corporates who take advantage of their contacts with the journalist. This has been happening for eons. Only that it has come to light only now. PR people have evolved from propagandists and spin doctors. Depending on the size of corporate, they do have an influence onthe media houses

WHAT SHOULD BE DONE?

  • PR needs to be cleaned up first. In an ideal set up there should be a regulating body that should see to it that the most BASIC ETHICS are maintained. A PR agency should only help in being a bridge between the Client and the media representative. All a PR person should do is if a client has anything newsworthy to share, should help set up a meeting with the media body. And then the journalist or reporter or editor should decide whether it is worthy enough to be carried. This is what usually happens. But in case of Nira Radia, she did have a degree of influence and was in touch with the top people and could get her work done. The editor in this case is murkier than the lobbyist/PRO. What goes in to the paper should be decided only by the Editor.
  • PCI should lay down more rules in such a way that the license would be threatened if any case of paid news is reported. They could also rate media houses based on how a media house works. This would certainly restore some quality. There should be separate teams to monitor political and corporate news.The ratings of course should be made public and a detailed report submitted
  • Media houses should realize that they form an important medium and should not lose the TRUST of the people. The roles of advertising and the editorial department should not be confused
  • As per the READER is concerned, it is easy to find out an article that is paid news. The article will surely be imbalanced. If you are wasting your time reading an advertorial/Space marketing feature then its money well spent by the organization. The B & C grade newspapers  indulge in paid news to a great extent. Who gives them the license to function? If they do not have a license, they should be arrested!
  • Large media house have private equities in firms. Has the PCI ever investigated this? They should disclose the percentage they hold in large firms on their website

But hey we have this New Media now and I only hope everyone gets their share of news from this Medium!