Members of the inquiry committee set up by the Press Council to examine the “paid news” issue met Maharashtra Chief Minister Ashok Chavan, whom the Election Commission has served a notice after complaints that he allegedly paid newspapers for publishing stories in his favour before Assembly polls.
“We met the Chief Minister at his official residence ‘Varsha’ yesterday and recorded his statement on the issue. He denied that he or his associates paid money to newspapers to publish complimentary articles,” Paranjoy Guha Thakurta, a member of the two-member inquiry committee, told PTI.
“The Council Chairman Justice G.N. Ray had sent a letter to the Chief Minister, seeking his time and views on the whole paid news issue,” he said.
Mr. Chavan denied having paid money to newspapers. “We told him this is what senior journalist P. Sainath has written. We asked him a lot of questions based on the allegations of paid news. We recorded his statement on a tape recorder,” he said.
Mr. Chavan told the panel that the “appropriate forum to respond to the allegations is the court of law where poll petitions are heard.”
“He told us he has received a letter from the Election Commission and that he would be responding to it soon,” Mr. Thakurta said.
Worried over the “paid news” syndrome in the media in the run-up to elections, the Commission served a notice to Mr. Chavan last week, following a complaint from the BJP.
“We have asked the Chief Minister to explain. The letter is returnable on February 1,” Chief Election Commissioner Navin Chawla had said.
A controversy has erupted over Mr. Chavan’s expenses on putting out advertisements in the media during his election campaign with the Chief Minister claiming he only spent around Rs 11,000 on paid advertisements.
BJP has rubbished the claim, saying Mr. Chavan received coverage worth much more in newspapers with advertisements in form of news, which he alleged were paid for.