The Press Council of India (PCI) may finalise a report on the “paid news” controversy at a meeting on April 26 and then forward it to the Election Commission. It will also bring out a White Paper on “paid news.”
The Council, at a meeting early this week in Indore, considered a report prepared by a sub-committee on the issue, but could not come to a conclusion. The issue would again be taken up on April 26, PCI Chairman Justice G.N. Ray told The Hindu from Indore over telephone on Friday.
At a media briefing there a few days ago, the former Supreme Court Judge expressed concern at the complaints that some newspapers took money to publish reports. “Earning profit is important for the media but it should not be in contradiction to the principles of democracy. It also whittles the foundations of journalism,” he said.
The Election Commission has said it will wait for the Council report before deciding on the complaint against Maharashtra Chief Minister Ashok Chavan that he paid money to newspapers for publishing reports in his favour during the October 13, 2009 Assembly elections.
“Since the issue involves the media and news we want to have the views of the PCI before deciding further,” sources in the Commission said.
In January, members of an inquiry committee set up by the PCI met Mr. Chavan and recorded his statement. He denied that he or his associates paid money to newspapers to publish complimentary articles.
Earlier, replying to the BJP's complaint, Mr. Chavan said there was no mention, in any of the advertisements concerned, of seeking votes in his favour. He had submitted the election expenditure to the authority concerned in time, and prima facie this was approved by the District Election Officer (Returning Officer) with the endorsement that it was “in the prescribed format” and “in order.” He had no role in the publication of news stories relating to him (allegedly due to payment of money), Mr. Chavan said.
In November last, TheHindu came out with news stories on how Mr. Chavan gained publicity in the run-up to the elections as identical stories focussing exclusively on him, his leadership, his party and his government were published in some Marathi newspapers, including a leading daily. However, these were not marked as advertisements.