The Press Council of India (PCI) is still awaiting the report of its sub-committee which is going into the issue of what is “paid news” and what is an advertisement. It would study the report and later forward its opinion to the Election Commission which is enquiring into a complaint against Maharashtra Chief Minister Ashok Chavan on the controversy.
PCI Chairman Justice G.N. Ray told The Hindu on Thursday that since the sub-committee was a broad-based one it was studying the issue deeply and it would take another one-and-a-half to two months to forward the Press Council's opinion to the Election Commission. He replied in the negative when asked whether the Council had submitted an interim report to the Commission.
The EC had already stated that it would await the PCI's report on “paid news” before deciding the complaint against Mr. Chavan that he paid money to newspapers for publishing reports in his favour during the October 13, 2009, Assembly elections in Maharashtra.
During January this year, members of the inquiry committee, set up by the PCI to examine the “paid news” issue, met Mr. Chavan and recorded his statement. The latter denied that he or his associates paid money for complimentary articles.
Earlier replying to the BJP complaint, Mr. Chavan said there was no mention of seeking of votes in his favour in any of the advertisements concerned. He pointed out that he had submitted the election expenditure to the concerned authority in time and that 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 to play in the news stories relating to him (allegedly due to payment of money), he added.
The Hindu, during November last year, came out with news stories on how Mr. Chavan gained massive publicity during the run-up to the election as identical stories focussed exclusively on him, his leadership, his party and his government were published in some Marathi newspapers including a leading daily. However they were not marked as advertisements. He was elected to the Assembly from Bhokar constituency in Nanded district.