The Election Commission will wait for the report of the Press Council of India (PCI) on the “paid news” controversy before proceeding further on the complaint against Maharashtra Chief Minister Ashok Chavan that he paid money to newspapers for publishing reports in his favour during the Assembly elections on October 13 last year.
The Commission will also await response from another BJP leader to the reply sent by Mr. Chavan, as the former is one of the complainants.
“Since the issue involved media and news we want to have the views of the PCI before deciding further. The PCI is likely to send the report to us by the end of this month,” EC sources said.
During January this year, members of the inquiry committee set up by the PCI to examine the “paid news” issue met Mr. Chavan and recorded his statement. The latter denied that he or his associates paid money to newspapers to publish complimentary articles.
BJP leader Kirti Somaiya had earlier asked for Mr. Chavan's disqualification under Section 10A of the Representation of the People Act, 1951, for three years for utilising “paid news” services during his poll campaign.
Earlier, replying to the BJP's complaint, Mr. Chavan said there was no mention of seeking of votes in his favour in any of the advertisements concerned.
The Chief Minister also questioned the EC's authority to send such a letter as an election petition was already pending in the Aurangabad Bench of the Maharashtra High Court and the matter was sub judice.
Mr. Chavan pointed out that he had submitted the election expenditure to the concerned authority in time and that prima facie this was approved by the District Election Officer (Returning Officer) with the endorsement that it was “in the prescribed format” and “in order.”
He had no role to play in the news stories relating to him (allegedly due to payment of money), he added.
‘Not free speech'
Meanwhile Election Commissioner S.Y. Quraishi, during a recent seminar here, said “paid news” was not free speech, and that the Commission was concerned about the undue influence that it could create in the mind of the voter.
“The voter's right to correct and unbiased information needs protection. Paid news hoodwinks the enforcement of the expenditure ceiling, a key component in election management with particular importance for a level playing field,” Mr. Quraishi said.