Press Council of India Chairman Justice Markandey Katju on Monday warned mediapersons, candidates and the election authorities that strong action would be taken against them if they indulged in “paid news” which was a blot on democracy.

In a statement, he claimed that he had been receiving complaints from several quarters that in the on-going elections in five States — Manipur, Punjab, Uttarakhand, Uttar Pradesh and Goa — the malpractice of paid news is widespread. “This is a threat to free and fair elections, and it undermines the foundation of democracy and shakes the people’s faith in the media.”

This malpractice would subvert the parliamentary democracy in the country, unless ruthlessly stamped out.

The Press Council was happy that the Election Commission had already set up the Media Monitoring Committees district-wise, he said and urged those committees to keep a strict watch on suspected cases of paid news and report forthwith to the concerned EC authorities as well as to the Press Council.