Press Council of India report on ‘favours’ to journalists
The Press Council of India has held that government accommodation, concessional land, free air tickets and company shares being given to journalists, news agencies and newspaper establishments and owners will amount to ‘undue favours.’
The council, which undertook a comprehensive study on the subject between 1985 and 1995, held that free and concessional bus, rail and other transport facilities given to journalists also fell in the category of favours. It observed that the facility of free air travel provided by companies, corporations and airlines was an inducement to write favourably about their products and services.
The council noted that proprietors of newspapers, instead of journalists and editors, were accompanying the president, vice-president, prime minister and external affairs ministry officials on their foreign trips. It recommended that the newspapers should take care to nominate eligible persons for the purpose.
The commission also observed that indiscriminate disbursement of money from the discretionary funds of chief ministers encouraged unfaithfulness to the mission of journalism and promoted corrupt practices.
The committee (of the council on undue favours to journalists) came to the conclusion that the following facilities, so far being extended by the government and the authorities, companies and corporations, will amount to favours subject to the observations made hereunder:
Accommodation: Government housing, flats, land
The committee is of the view that it is the responsibility of the newspaper establishments to provide accommodation to its employees. The committee noted that the Punjab and Haryana High Court in its judgement has held that journalists are not entitled to government accommodation, as they are not employees of the government.
The court has said that there were no rules, regulations or guidelines governing such allotment with the Chandigarh administration. The court observed that the existing rules were only meant for government servants and there was no question of bringing the journalists in its ambit.
The committee further noted that the central government in its action taken report on the suggestions of the Second Press Commission said that no further housing facility should be provided to journalists and the existing allotments of the government accommodation in the national capital and states should be charged for at non-subsidised rates and phased out as the present occupants leave. It had recorded that no further housing facility will be provided to journalists and in respect of the existing allotments rent will be charged at non-subsidised rates. This decision was taken nearly a decade ago. However, the allotments continued.
The committee also noted that central and state governments were giving prime land to newspaper owners at a nominal price. Some newspaper establishments had either rented out the entire premises after retaining a small portion for their own use or had converted the premises into a commercial complex, thereby earning huge profits. In some cases, it was found that the newspapers, with a view to get another allotment at some other place after renting out the entire building, were not even reporting on attacks on their own scribes for the simple reason that they wanted to remain in the good books of the government. Such newspapers were compromising with the fascist forces and the freedom of the press.
Allotment of shares in companies
The committee is of the opinion that if shares are allotted at special prices or are given under any quota, this will amount to favour. The council has already issued guidelines for financial journalists.
Bus, rail travel and transport
The committee is of the opinion that this was favour so for as big and medium newspapers are concerned. The journalists attached to newspapers that are in profit have no justification for availing free or concessional bus, rail or air transport facility. However, in case of small newspapers this constituted a facility, as the committee felt that there is justification for extending such facility.
The media persons who work at the grass-root level and work for small newspapers are paid the bare minimum recommended under the Wage Board Awards. The financial condition of most small newspapers is precarious and without such a facility they will be unable to cover all news, which is necessary to be communicated to their readers. Most of the news at the local level that appears in these newspapers was, most of the time, picked up by medium and big newspapers. The reporters of the small newspapers and accredited freelance journalists, who cannot afford it, must have the facility to travel as much as possible.
The companies, corporations and airlines extend the facility of air travel to journalists not only within the country but also abroad. The journalists avail of this happily. This is an inducement to write favourably about their products or airlines. Propaganda is undertaken through such devices to commercially promote the products or airlines. This certainly interferes with independent reporting.
Before 1986, the president, vice-president, prime minister and the external affairs minister were accompanied by journalists during their foreign trips on the basis of pick-and-choose policy. But in 1987, the council framed guidelines on the selection of journalists on the prime minister’s entourage and this was being generally followed. The committee, however, noted that often the proprietors of the newspapers were accompanying the president or the prime minister on foreign tours in place of journalists and editors.
The committee recommended that the newspapers should take care to nominate eligible persons for the purpose.
Free air tickets
The committee is of the opinion that this practice constitutes an undue favour as it enticed journalists to write favourable reports to commercially promote the airline.
Cash disbursement from CM’s discretionary fund
The committee noted that there are guidelines as to how the discretionary fund at the disposal of the chief minister or any other functionary has to be spent. The guidelines should be followed strictly. Indiscriminate disbursement of money from the discretionary fund of chief ministers encourages unfaithfulness to the mission of journalism and promotes corrupt practices.
The committee is of the opinion that if financial assistance is given for medical treatment purposes, it still constitutes a favour, unless medical aid is being given under the clear-cut policy, uniformly applicable to all those destitute or sick persons who cannot afford medical treatment. And in case the journalist happens to be one of those persons there is nothing wrong in it.
In Delhi, all the journalists accredited to the Press Information Bureau are entitled to the Central Government Housing Society (CGHS) facility. The committee feels that extending the CGHS facility to journalists is illogical since it is available to the government servants only. The provision of medical facilities to its employees is the responsibility of the newspaper establishments.
Funds for media centre and grants to journalists associationsThe committee is of the opinion that this is a favour, unless it is given for promoting journalistic skills.
Gift cheque by advertising agencies for publication of press note of their clients The committee thinks this is a favour and it deserves outright condemnation.
The committee is of the opinion that gifts in any form, irrespective of their value, are to be condemned.
The committee is of the opinion that this is a favour if a journalist uses this facility for purposes other than his professional work.
The committee is of the opinion that working journalists, as a rule, should not be treated as state guests. In case an individual is treated as a state guest he, ipso facto, becomes entitled to many facilities without any payment thereof. However, when press teams are invited in discharge of their professional duties, making due arrangements for them should be an exception. The committee further noted that the stay in government guesthouses by accredited journalists is permissible if it is for discharging professional duties.
Import of duty-free cameras and computers
The committee is of the opinion it is the duty of the newspaper establishment to provide cameras or computers to its personnel. An individual employee journalist is not required to buy a camera or a computer for his work. In the recent past, the central government had allowed import of duty-free cameras and computers to the journalists. The committee is of the opinion that this facility should, however, be permissible for accredited freelance journalists, provided it is not misused.
The committee is of the opinion that it is not for the government to pay for the premium towards the insurance of journalists. It is the duty of the newspaper establishments or the individual concerned to make such payment towards annual dues once the scheme has been introduced.
Jobs to relatives
Giving jobs to journalists’ relatives are not a merit, is an outright attempt at inducement.
The committee is of the opinion that the grant of loans within the ambit of policy already laid down for all citizens is permissible. But when the loan is give only to the journalists or at a reduced rate of interest or when the interest due or the principal amount is waived, written off or condoned, such a practice will amount to undue favour.
Nomination on committees
The committee is of the opinion that in some states, journalists are nominated on some organisations and institutions like the Public Service Commission and are also given the status of state or cabinet ministers. This is a wrong practice. Except for the nomination by professional organisations on committees that have a quota to represent various professionals, this practice constitutes favour.
PCO, fax, phone booth or centre The committee is of the opinion that this is obviously a favour, if gifted. The fax and the phone facility given to all journalists should, however, be distinguished from the allotment of such booths.
The committee is of the opinion that since the Fourth Estate is not a part of the government, this benefit constitutes a favour if the government extends the pension benefits. The authorities’ role should be limited to ensuring that newspaper establishments implement the awards of the wage boards.
Press clubs – donation of funds
The committee noted that this practice is prevalent all over the country and funds are lavishly donated by chief ministers, ministers and leaders not only to genuine press clubs but also to the press clubs of dubious nature. It, therefore, constitutes an attempt to induce journalists to give favourable reports about the donors.
The committee feels the practice of giving spurious awards has to be curbed. There are instances, not worth mentioning, of the sale of awards and prizes by racketeers, who make money out of it. Not just racketeers, but awardees also often contribute towards the value of the prizes.
Allotment of shops in their capacity as journalists is a clear-cut favour.
The committee is of the opinion that the following constitute facilities, subject to the remarks given:
Accreditation The pattern of the formation of the Central Press Accreditation Committee should be followed in all states and union territories. CPAC at present has a good composition of representatives of journalists, owners, editors and non-editors’ organisations, headed by a principal information officer of the Press Information Bureau. Another officer, the director of external publicity, is also called to attend the meeting whenever the issue of foreign accreditation is considered.
But it should be made mandatory that the accreditation committee should be constituted within a month of the expiry of the term of the earlier committee, and the committee should hold its meetings quarterly. A provisional accreditation, if given, must come up before the accreditation committee in its first meeting thereafter.
Government and public authority advertisements
It is a mutually beneficial transaction when conducted in keeping with the parameters defined in an already laid-down policy. But when given to individual newspapers on an ad hoc basis or for extraneous considerations or when they are not routed through centralised agency they constitute favour.
In addition, governments and public authorities, including the railways, must publish in their annual reports, the information regarding advertisements and facilities given by them to journalists and their organisations. This will ensure greater transparency in their working.
The committee is of the opinion that this was a must, so that journalists are able to cover the events relating to the most important electoral process. Access to all the places of information must be given to them, subject to reasonable restrictions imposed by the election commission of India.
Meeting expenses for journalistic conventions, seminars
The committee is of the opinion that this was permissible as long as under its garb cash grants are not given by central and state governments, public authorities and others.
They are a facility required to be provided for due discharge of the professional duties by journalists.
Inviting press parties
The committee is of the opinion that, as stated earlier, this is a facility extended by the authorities to provide necessary information on matters of public interest to the public.
Publication material during press conference
The committee is of the opinion that this is a facility.
The committee is of the opinion that this is a facility and should be encouraged as this will improve the knowledge and efficiency of all those engaged in the profession of journalism.
The Press Council of India further stated:
State governments and union territories that have not provided complete information on further queries of the council are Andhra Pradesh, Chandigarh Administration, Gujarat, Haryana, Kerala, Madhya Pradesh, Maharashtra, Orissa, Punj
ab and Uttar Pradesh.
The council’s committee on undue favours to journalists (hereinafter referred to as committee) also sought public cooperation by issuing press releases from time to time in all states and union territories, inviting organisations, institutions and members of the public to provide any such information to the committee as may be in their possession or knowledge, which is relevant to the issue. – 25 March 2002
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