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Journalists seek check on "cash for coverage" abuse

(IFJ/IFEX) - November 9, 2009 - The International Federation of Journalists (IFJ) expresses its solidarity with Indian colleagues who have been engaged in an effort to uncover the full dimensions of the "cash for coverage" practice that came to light during recently-concluded general elections in the country.

The practice was first noted during the extended campaign for the general elections to India's parliament, between March and May this year. Further instances of cash payments being used to secure favourable media coverage for particular candidates and parties were recorded during the general elections to three state legislative assemblies in October.

The IFJ notes that some of India's most distinguished journalists, including the late Prabhash Joshi, Ajit Bhattacharjee, B.G. Verghese and Kuldip Nayar, have made representations to the Press Council of India (PCI) about the threat to media freedom inherent in the "cash for coverage" practice.

The Andhra Pradesh Union of Working Journalists, a member organisation of the IFJ-affiliated Indian Journalists' Union (IJU), has taken note of this practice and conducted a wide-ranging public dialogue on its implications in the southern Indian state of Andhra Pradesh.

The Delhi Union of Journalists, also a member organisation of the IJU, has made a representation to the PCI, expressing serious concern about the "use of money power" and a "variety of machinations which are tantamount to unfair and unethical practices" to influence media coverage during the recent elections.

The IFJ notes that Professor Madabhushi Sridhar, a well-regarded media scholar from Andhra Pradesh, has contributed significantly to the growing public awareness of this issue.

In a communication to the DUJ, the chairman of the PCI, Justice G.N. Ray, observed, "The disturbing phenomenon of 'paid news syndrome', which has widely surfaced in this year's general election, is under serious consideration by the Press Council of India and a special committee has been constituted by the Council to gather all relevant information about this malady."

The IFJ is encouraged by the constitution of an inquiry committee which consists of the PCI chairman and two members, K. Sreenivas Reddy and Paranjoy Guha Thakurta, both distinguished journalists who have worked closely with IFJ-affiliated unions in India.

"The IFJ wishes the inquiry into this abuse of media freedom all success. A credible investigation indicating possible correctives will be an apt tribute to the legacy of the highly esteemed Prabhash Joshi, who sadly died four days ago," IFJ Asia-Pacific Director Jacqueline Park said.

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