The Press Council of India has been directed by the Central Information Commissioner (CIC) to make public its original report on paid news and upload it on its website by October 10, 2011, striking a blow for the most craven kind of censorship from this apex self-regulatory body.
Journalist Manu Moudgil, who filed an RTI application to seek the disclosure of the report, said that the CIC has directed PCI to upload the original report on paid news on its website by October 10, 2011.
The report : “Paid News: How corruption in the Indian media undermines Indian democracy” by a sub-committee of the Press Council comprising journalists Paranjoy Guha Thakurta and K Sreenivas Reddy was submitted to the Press Council in ....2010. The report contained detailed information on paid news with testimonies from journalists, politicians and candidates who had suffered adverse or no publicity because they did not pay up for news coverage.
The report had named publications which took money from some candidates in the 2009 Lok Sabha elections to publish favourable news of them. The political parties and candidates had also clearly violated election commission guidelines on the amounts to be spent for election campaigning and the media had also violated ethics by publishing paid news as legitimate coverage. Besides, none of these transactions were official, bearing no receipts or incurring any tax expenditure.
On July 30, 2010, the Press Council, instead of publishing the report in its entirety as expected, chose to archive the report as a reference document. It also came out with a brief report which deleted all the names of those found guilty and was full of recommendations and self regulation talk than the facts found. The new report also excluded the portion on the lacunae in the Working Journalists Act which had been pointed out in the original report, Moudgil said.
Aggrieved, he applied for the report under the RTI but the Press Council refused to give the report under RTI claiming that it was seeking legal opinion. Even the first appellate authority refused to help and hence CIC was approached, Moudgil said. Though the report had been leaked on the internet, not many knew about it and it remained an unofficial document.
In his order, The Information Commissioner Shailesh Gandhi said that the council must put up the report on the website under proactive disclosure clause of the RTI Act even if it is a reference document.
The original decision can be read here