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A free press is considered to be the fourth pillar of democracy.

A free press is the medium through


which the population gets to know what their elected representatives have been doing in their name.
Ideally, the press is supposed to be unbiased and immune to influence from parties whose affairs are
the subject of news. However, this ideal can be seldom met. News media is influenced by several factors
before it comes out and delivers news to its subscribers. Sometimes, particularly in certain countries
than others, the government plays a very big role in deciding what can be put out as news. Government
censorship thus limits news coverage to stories that are favourable to the regime and restricts the
publication of news that may be damaging to the reputation of the government or individual politicians.
In most democratic countries, the government cannot directly decide what is printed or what is aired by
media outlets. A common way of influencing what news says about politicians or corporate magnates is
to own news outlets so that the people who make the news can make it the way the want it to be. In
India, there are several examples of politicians or political parties who own newspapers or television
channels. These channels are inevitably observed to be biased in their coverage and are often guilty of
smear campaigns against political opponents. There are several examples of political parties and
politicians in India who own news outlets. The Karunanidhi led DMK owns the Sun network and
Kalaignar TV, while their principal opponent, Jayalalithas AIADMK, owns Jaya TV. In Kerala, the CPI(M)
owns three television channels under the banner of Malayalam Communications and a newspaper,
Deshabhimani, while the Congress party owns Jaihind TV. For the most part, the ownership of news
media by political parties is known to the public and therefore news that comes out of party owned
channels are often taken with a pinch of salt. However, television and print media can have political
affiliations which are not known to their subscribers and this enables media to covertly employ bias
while reporting news. Almost all news channels are accused of being partial to some political outfit or
the other and an analysis of the news they cover reveal this. Thus, the parties which have influence with
newspapers can make sure that only news stories which are favourable to them are published.
A newspaper is financed largely by advertisement revenue. Forty per cent or more of a newspaper is
often set aside for advertisement, which effectively sponsors the daily news for readers. These
advertisements are put in by wealthy corporates, business owners and sometimes politicians. Thus, a
certain class of people finance the production of news even when they do not directly own the
newspaper or television channel. The advertisers can demand that certain kinds of news be carried or
certain news be omitted as such coverage may be detrimental to their interests. Almost all mainstream
media outlets are run on advertisements and are susceptible to the influence of their benefactors. The
recent furore over Reliances stake in NDTV and the resulting bias in coverage of the corporate house is
a case in point.
In recent times, sting operations have revealed that media executives make sales pitches to various
political parties, especially during election time, with detailed fee structures for various kinds of
coverage. This is eerily similar to the way advertising slots are sold in newspapers. Thus, news itself
becomes a kind of advertisement, where a particular party pays the newspaper for a few columns in the
paper. The blurring of the line between news and advertising is also known as paid news. News which
serves as advertisement for a party or politician is presented as reportage by the paper. This is where
paid news differs from advertising- the reader is unaware of the sponsorship of a particular number of
columns by a certain party. The practice of paid news can have impacts on different levels. Groups with
vested interests can pay news outlets to publish as well as suppress news stories. The news media could
get paid to report stories favourable to a group as well as to cover up stories that could show these
groups in a bad light. Paid news commercializes, in the purest sense of the term, news coverage that is
supposed to report on the state of the world in an unbiased fashion. Thus, this information asymmetry
contributes to the production of a discourse that favours the news supplier. This in turn leads to the
marginalization of sections who cannot afford to pay for news and leads to the creation of hierarchically
arranged dichotomous binaries such as the ones we see in our country today.
One cannot categorically associate advertising with paid news and nefarious journalism. Advertising is
the lifeline of newspapers and it is the money provided by advertisers that enable publishers to deliver
newspapers for low costs every day. Moreover, newspapers and television channels of the greatest
reputation, whose brand has been built on dedicated journalism of many years, attract the most
advertisements. These newspapers thus have the capability to pursue fearless and unbiased journalism
as they are assured of revenue through advertising even if they do not bow down to corporate or
political pressure. Many newspapers and television channels uphold the principles of honest journalism
as they are wary of damaging their brand name if they are suspected of paid journalism.