I remember there were voices of dissent and disapproval from other news channels when Aaj Tak first introduced ads in its news scroll. Very soon everyone else followed. This was not the first instance when a market leader in media started what was a debatable trend.
In 2003 Times Of India group started the trend of selling editorial space for 'paid' news through its marketing division named Medianet. There was a lot of hue and cry when the news first broke out. TOI was ridiculed and criticized for bringing the profession to disrepute.
But after the dust settled, media bosses understood the business sense and nobody wanted to be left behind in this race. (Couple of examples : DNA, Deccan Herald) So recently when The Hindu pointed that Maharashtra CM Ashok Chavan got reams of press coverage whose expenses were not declared in the election expenses that he submitted to Election Commission, there was hardly a murmur from either politicians or in the media. The media houses accused in this report feigned ignorance and their rivals didn't even try to claim moral high ground because of obvious reasons. Outlook's December 21 issue had a more in-depth coverage of this malaise and shocking revelations of how serious and deeply rooted this paid news phenomenon has become, specially in the times of elections.
But what is truly shocking is the complete silence in the media about this issue. No discussions or debates on a practice what has threatened the reputation of entire profession. No attempt to censure the culprits or make any rules to stop this practice. Why? Imagine if medical profession accepted that the practice of organ theft or judges thought accepting bribes to give a favorable verdict was OK.
No words can describe the impact if news media started being stooges of corrupt politicians whose only qualification was being able to pay for favorable coverage. If our only source of getting credible information for choosing our elected representatives was proven to be corrupt, what do we rely on?
As they say, who watches the watchmen?