38 notices issued to offending candidates; 12 cases in Bihar against media referred to PCI

Even as “money-chasing” media persons and news organisations are coming up with innovative ways to hoodwink the Election Commission (EC) in its drive to seek out “paid news”, the authority has so far detected as many as 42 instances of alleged paid news in Uttar Pradesh where the Assembly polls are being held.

Of these, notices have been served on 38 candidates — on whose favour the writing/telecast have been made by the media — as per the preliminary findings of the committees set up at the district level in the poll-going States to detect such “paid news” cases. While 37 contestants are yet to reply to the notice, one candidate has denied that the news in question was an advertisement (where paid news is normally camouflaged as a news item) and hence the appropriate calculation of expenditure for the item could not be included in his election expenditure account.

Similarly, in Punjab, where elections have been completed, 134 alleged instances of “paid news” have been detected and notices issued to 129 candidates. While 63 of them have admitted that they were advertisements and accepted that the expenditure (normally charged for media for such advertisement) in this regard be included in their election expenditure account, 54 have contested the Committee's findings. Others are yet to reply.

But in Uttarakhand and Manipur — where the elections were held — and Goa, where it is due next month, no such instances have been detected, EC sources said.

Similarly, during the Assembly elections held in April/May last year, 41 cases were detected in Kerala, 23 in West Bengal, 147 in Tamil Nadu and 4 in Puducherry and they were being processed.

In the November 2010 Bihar polls, 121 instances of paid news were detected and all except 12 had been disposed of. While the EC will take on the candidates who had suppressed the alleged advertisement expenditure in the post-poll election accounts submitted by them, complaints against 12 media organisations were forwarded to the Press Council of India (PCI) for “appropriate action”.

EC Director-General Akshay Raut, who takes care of media-related issues, said the Commission was always interested in holding a free and fair poll with a level playing field and under no circumstances did it intend to transgress on “press freedom.” The Commission would only look into the complaint against the candidate concerned (regarding suppression of expenditure) and all the issues against the media were being forwarded to the PCI for action.

While PCI Chairman Justice Markandey Katju could not be contacted for comment, the council's former chairman, Justice G.N. Ray, said “no complaint against the media was processed during his tenure.” Justice Katju took over as PCI chairman in November last.

Sources alleged that some print media organisations — mostly regional ones — were generally found to be more involved in paid news than the electronic media.

Keywords: paid news