Several publishers now see their newspapers and periodicals as a commodity. Past norms are being altered to increase revenue and stay competitive. If they are indeed products, laws that apply to consumer products should apply to newspapers and periodicals also.
Politicians and others used to purchase reporters, often ‘cheaply’. Politicians who embezzle crores of rupees from the exchequer could befriend journalists by throwing them a party or giving them minor gifts like a pen. Some reporters were also known to demand gifts from business houses and others seeking publicity. Politicians and businessmen used to have not much access to editors as they functioned from offices. So, they served as gatekeepers.
Now, business houses have found access to the editors either directly or through their advertisement departments. News items are being paid for directly or indirectly. Most editors and publishers have succumbed to the lure of money that they brought. Some even charged for election coverage.
Journalists have often claimed that self-regulation was the best for them and their publications. This had justification when free expression was being threatened by authorities, and the argument may still valid when the authorities try to influence content. However, with paid news getting acceptance, self-regulation has failed at least in respect of separating news and views from advertisements. Only the Editors Guild is feebly speaking against paid news and none of the publishers seems to mind them.
So, it is time that the Parliament stepped in. It should pass legislation that makes it mandatory for the news organisations to label their content– as news, views, advertorial or plain advertisement. If makers of food, drugs and other items should indicate the content of their products on the label, it is only appropriate that the publishers are also forced to do so.