Amid concerns over growing incidence of “paid news” during polls, the Election Commission has detected over 400 “confirmed” cases during the recently-concluded Gujarat Assembly polls.
The Commission has found as many as 414 confirmed cases of paid news and is initiating action against the erring candidates by including such expenses in their poll expenditure, a top EC official said in New Delhi.
“A total of 414 confirmed cases of paid news have been reported from Gujarat during last year’s assembly polls after verification by various Media Certification and Monitoring Committees (MCMC) set up by the poll body at the district and state levels to detect such cases. A final report on the action taken on these cases from the state election authority is awaited,” the official said.
The various MCMCs set up in Gujarat by the Commission had sent around 500 notices on cases of paid news identified by them.
Sources said a large number of candidates have already admitted to having paid for such news in electronic and print media and action against the erring candidates is being initiated, which includes adding the paid news expenses in the expenditure of candidates.
The Commission will also be writing to the Press Council of India (PCI) for necessary action against media houses indulging in such paid news without calling them as advertisements.
In a first action of its kind against paid news, the Commission had on October 20, 2011 disqualified Umlesh Yadav, MLA from Bisauli assembly constituency in Uttar Pradesh after finding her guilty of getting news published in her favour during 2007 state polls by paying hefty amount to media outlets.
The poll body has termed the issue of paid news as a major problem during elections, where candidates pay up for news in their favour to present it as news in print and electronic media and has strengthened its machinery to check the malpractice.
Incidentally, Gujarat had reported a record voter turnout of 70.2 per cent during the December 2012 Assembly polls, much above the earlier highest-ever voting of 64.39 per cent registered in 1995. In 2007, Gujarat had recorded a turnout of 59.93 per cent. Gujarat had a total electorate of 3.81 crore at the time the state went to polls in two phases last year.
The EC-appointed MCMCs are required to play the role of a watchdog and in cases of any irregularity or suspected paid news, they would have to intimate the returning officer for issuance of notice to the candidates for inclusion of actual expenditure on the published or broadcast matter.
A fact-finding team of the Press Council had also reported large-scale practice of “paid news” during the recent Gujarat Assembly polls.
Calling the prevalence of paid news as “shocking and very disturbing”, PCI Chairperson Justice Markandey Katju has said the information provided by the panel appointed by him only shows that self-regulation by media was proving to be “ineffective”.