‘Tariff' for coverage of candidates can go up to Rs.10,000

The ‘paid news' phenomenon, which came under the scanner after the 2009 Lok Sabha elections, seems to have afflicted the local body poll scene too in Tamil Nadu.

A candidate fielded by a political party for post of Councillor in the Madurai Corporation called up and sought a meeting with this correspondent a few days ago. Asked why he could not talk over phone, he said that he wanted to come in person as he wanted to know the “terms and conditions of payment” for a news item to be published.

When it was clarified that newspapers do not charge for publishing news, the candidate came out with the details of the practice followed by some dailies for publishing election-related news.

According to him, basic coverage – introducing candidates and their electoral promises, with a picture – costs Rs.2,000. If the candidate wanted better and more frequent coverage, the ‘tariff' went up to even Rs.10,000. In some cases, the candidates bought copies of the editions in which articles about them were published.

The copies are distributed by candidates among voters.

A leading newspaper advertising agency's executive, who did not wish to be identified, said that fears that the State Election Commission might be keeping track of newspaper advertisements to check if expenditure limits were violated prompted candidates to resort to such backdoor methods for ensuring media coverage.

Expressing concern over the trend of “paid news” adopted by some dailies, activist and advocate R. Satyamurthi said that it was unfortunate that media houses, which were supposed to guide society, indulged in such practice.

“The credibility of such newspapers is bound to get affected in the long run as readers can't be duped or misled all the time.”

Bharathiya Janata Party's State propaganda secretary Sasiraman said that newspapers, which often tended to expose corruption among politicians and bureaucrats, should remain above criticism.

“Newspapers and electronic media get advertisements. Why should they encourage payment for news on such an important issue as local body polls?”

A Communist Party of India (Marxist) candidate, who is in the fray for the post of Councillor in the Madurai Corporation said: “It is election time. When police and revenue officials are booking cases against many offenders, they should also try and stop paid news, which is thriving in a big way, albeit silently.”