“Paid news is a dangerous trend, which strikes at the very root of free and fair elections and undermines democracy in the country,” said T.S. Krishna Murthy, former Chief Election Commissioner of India.

Addressing the Chennai chapter of Public Relations Society of India here on Friday, he said the concept of “paid news” had become popular among affluent contesting candidates as it was camouflaged as independent news although it was paid for clandestinely or otherwise to escape the ceiling on expenditure fixed by the Election Commission. It was unfortunate that certain media had degenerated themselves to this kind of development, which was “not good for a healthy democracy.”

Another reason for the concept gaining ground was the plethora of news channels, especially those owing allegiance to certain political parties and the increase in election expenditure. In the 2004 Lok Sabha elections, these politically aligned channels indulged in subtle political propaganda, which had acquired a new dimension in the last Lok Sabha elections. As the Election Commission had imposed restrictions on expenditure on election expenses, contesting candidates utilised “paid news” concept to circumvent the regulations of the Commission.

Mr. Krishna Murthy said 30 years ago journalists took pride in claiming themselves to be independent and neutral. They played a significant role, especially during the Emergency when they stoutly opposed curbs on freedom of expression. But over the years, a section of the media had become ‘corrupt.'

It was high time that the trend was arrested for ensuring free and fair elections. For this the Election Commission, the media, the civil society and the Government should find a satisfactory solution, he said.

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