Anita Joshua

NEW DELHI: Continuing with its campaign against “paid news,” the Editors Guild of India has asked the Election Commission (EC) to take strong action against politicians and mediapersons who violate the disclosure norms of election expenditure with regard to media publicity.

Members of the Guild met Chief Election Commissioner (CEC) Navin Chawla and his colleagues on Friday and submitted a memorandum articulating the demand while expressing concern over the “paid news phenomenon.”

They also suggested that the expenditure limit of candidates be raised to “a realistic level, as the present ceiling on election expenses is being cited by politicians as a reason for resorting to paid news.”

On both counts, the CEC is understood to have expressed the Commission’s limitations. In the case of taking action against politicians and mediapersons who violated disclosure norms, Mr. Chawla said the EC did not have the mechanism to monitor candidates in all constituencies, but suggested that random samples be put under close scrutiny. If a few candidates were made an example, it would serve as a warning to others, he told the Guild.

As for raising the expenditure limit of candidates, Mr. Chawla said it was a matter to be decided by Parliament.

The CEC said the EC had received several complaints on paid news. One grievance was that candidates sometimes got blacked out by unscrupulous publications unless they paid up. Others complained that well-heeled candidates who could cough up the money got favourable write-ups.

Election Commissioner S.Y. Qureshi was hopeful of making the complaints against Maharashtra Chief Minister Ashok Chavan in the recent Assembly polls as a test case to demonstrate the EC’s commitment to tackling the growing malaise of “paid news.”

Election Commissioner V.S. Sampath urged the Guild to come up with concrete suggestions on how to deal with the growing trend of packaging advertisements in the guise of news.

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