Pay for play journalism trial in India starts

It is hardly unique to India. But there is some movement in the issue of news organizations accepting payment from politicians or businesses to ensure “proper” coverage.

Seems an enterprising  freelancer in India approached a newspaper in Goa as a local politician asking for favorable coverage. According to the reporter’s blog, the “politician” offered a total of US$2,700 for articles and cable TV interviews.

The editor of the news organization is suing the reporter for defamation.

Indian paid-journalism sting prompts defamation trial

As I said, this allegation is not unique to India.

In China it was (maybe still is) common practice for Chinese companies and government agencies to provide cash to reporters at press conferences.

This practice came to the attention of the West light several years ago when a Chinese company gave the Western journalists the “hong bao” (red envelope) with cash inside. When the Western reporters asked about the cash, the Chinese PR person said it was standard practice to provide money to make sure the story was published the “right way.”

The reporting on that practice in the Western press got the Beijing authorities all upset. They officially launched a campaign to clean up journalism in China. Officially they banned the use of the hong bao but I am told there are still ways for companies to “express their hopes of a good story.”

While the practice of offering the hong bao may still be around, the practice of accepting the money is reportedly fading. At least among the growing number of Chinese journalists who are pushing the envelope on good journalism in China.

And don’t think the US or the UK are exempt from this problem. In the US it is called “”checkbook journalism.” In the UK a common phrase is “cash-for-trash” as practiced by Rupert Murdoch and his empire.

The bottom line is that pay for play journalism is bad not only for the profession but also for democratic institutions. (So no problem in China.) An August 2010 report from the Press Council of India called the practice of “paid news” in the country “pervasive, structured and highly organised” and that it was “undermining democracy in India.”

And given the latest campaign against corruption in India, it will be interesting to see how it all plays out.

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