The Election Commission of India (ECI) has clarified that poll campaign-related news appearing in newspapers and channels owned by political parties will fall under the purview of paid news, if found to praise a particular candidate and projected that candidate as the winner.

ECI Director Dhirendra Ojha was answering a question during a video conference-based training programme on “paid news, pre-certification and the Media Certification and Monitoring Committee” (MCMC) held by the ECI for district election officers (DEO) and MCMC members of various States on Monday afternoon.

Such news appearing in party organs would be considered an election advertisement of the candidate in question and added to his/her election expenditure, Mr. Ojha said.

The query was raised by a DEO from Kerala who pointed out that all mainstream political parties in the State owned newspapers/ news channels through which they promoted their respective candidate. Action was being taken against paid news as it misled people and exerted undue influence on voters, Mr. Ojha said.

A news item criticising a rival candidate in a party organ did not fall under the purview of paid news but would at the same time come under the purview of the model code of conduct, for which the affected candidate could approach the Press Council of India.

In any case of identified paid news, the MCMC had the authority to issue notice only to the candidate and not to the media. Political parties too did not come under the purview of paid news. Editorials and interviews did not come under the purview of paid news as newspapers had the prerogative to air their views independently.

Mr. Ojha said before identifying an item as paid news, it should be clearly demarcated as an advertisement for a candidate in lieu of cash or any other consideration.

He said it would take some more time to evolve a clear picture of paid news with respect to the social media. Mr. Ojha said opinion polls had not been banned but exit polls had been banned.

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