‘Replies given by newspapers to EC's communication are not acceptable, not in proper format'

Noted lawyer and Bharatiya Janata Party Rajya Sabha MP Ram Jethmalani has urged the Election Commission (EC) to direct four newspapers from Maharashtra — one Hindi and three Marathi — to file affidavits with oaths before the EC on the “paid news” controversy involving the former Maharashtra Chief Minister, Ashok Chavan.

Appearing for BJP national secretary, Kirti Somaiya — one of the complainants against Mr. Chavan in the case that is being heard by the EC — Mr. Jethmalani said the replies given by the newspapers in letter form on the issue, in response to the EC's communication, were not acceptable and not in proper format.

“The replies are contradictory in nature as some of the newspapers have said that they were not advertisements but only news items, and some others said that they were supporters of the Congress and hence wrote in favour of Mr. Chavan. Some have denied having received money and working out the story to favour Mr. Chavan,” Mr. Jethmalani said.

He said some newspapers had functioned like agents of a political party that was the agent of the candidate, and hence any advertisement given by the party in the candidate's favour should be included in the candidate's election expenditure.

“Since Mr. Chavan failed to provide a proper account for the expenses made for such newspaper advertisements, he should be disqualified under the relevant section of the Representation of the People Act, 1951,” Mr. Jethmalani argued.

He also displayed various news clippings containing Mr. Chavan's photographs and news, arguing that these were not news items but advertisements.

Time sought

Senior lawyer and Congress MP Abhishek Singhvi, who appeared for Mr. Chavan, sought more time to prepare his reply.

The matter has been adjourned by the EC — Chief Election Commissioner S.Y. Quraishi and Election Commissioners V.S. Sampath and Harishankar Brahma — to January 4 and 5, 2011.

The allegation against Mr. Chavan, elected from the Bhokar constituency in Nanded district was that he paid money to some newspapers to get publicity during the October 13, 2009 Assembly elections, and that he did not submit proper accounts for the expenditure made in this regard.

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