The Election Commission has asked Maharashtra Chief Minister Ashok Chavan to appear before Chief Election Commissioner Navin Chawla and Election Commissioners S.Y. Quraishi and V.S. Sampath on July 9 to give his version of “paid news” controversy. “news on payment” was exposed by The Hindu after the October 13, 2009, Maharashtra Assembly election.

Mr. Chawla told The Hindu on Wednesday that the decision had been taken as per the request made by Mr. Chavan. Though he had sent a reply to the notice issued earlier by the Commission to him, he wanted a personal hearing.

Similarly the Commission has given a “personal hearing opportunity” to Rashtriya Janata Dal (RJD) on July 2 on the show-cause notice issued to that party by EC seeking why its “national party” recognition should not be withheld in view of its poor performance in last year's Jharkhand Assembly poll.

The allegation against Mr. Chavan is that he camouflaged news praising him as advertisements and did not account properly in his election expenditure the money spent on such “paid news.” The EC acted on the complaint made by the BJP which gave several CDs and press clippings to EC alleging Mr. Chavan had overspent in his election campaign and misrepresented facts about the expenses.

When EC sought Mr. Chavan's “comments” he replied that there was no mention of seeking of votes in his favour in any of the advertisements concerned. The election expenditure was submitted to the authority concerned in time and that prima facie this was approved by the District Election Officer (Returning Officer).

The Hindu had published a series of reports on the malaise of ‘paid news' during both Lok Sabha and Maharashtra State Assembly polls. These included a front page report on Nov. 30, 2009 pointing to the glaring mismatch between Mr. Chavan's claim of having spent a mere Rs. 5,379 on newspaper advertisements and the 47 full pages of ‘news' (mostly in colour) on Mr. Chavan appearing during the State poll campaign. Subsequently, the count of such pages went up to 89.

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