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Paid news a ‘complex problem’, says poll panel

Special Correspondent
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‘It gives a candidate an undue advantage over his rivals’

Anil Kumar Jha (left), Chief Electoral Officer, Karnataka, and Akshay Rout, Director-General, Election Commission, at a media workshop in Bangalore on Wednesday.— Photo: K. Gopinathan
Anil Kumar Jha (left), Chief Electoral Officer, Karnataka, and Akshay Rout, Director-General, Election Commission, at a media workshop in Bangalore on Wednesday.— Photo: K. Gopinathan

The Election Commission on Wednesday said that paid news was a very “complex problem” and it had taken the issue seriously to ensure a level-playing field to all political parties and candidates in the elections to the Legislative Assembly on May 5.

Addressing a media workshop on electoral process here, Director-General, Election Commission, Akshay Rout, said: “Paid news is a complex issue and it had disturbed the political arena. Paid news gives a candidate an undue advantage over his poll rivals and also violated the Right to Information Act. But there is no clinching evidence to take action against paid news.”

Suo motu complaints

Noting that the “print and electronic media are eyes and ears on the ground” to the commission, Mr. Rout said: “We will take suo motu complaint based on media reports on violation of model of code of conduct during the election process.”

Unaccounted money was being spent through paid news and it was not a healthy trend for political parties, governments, and the economy. Use of money power to influence voters would come in the way of free and fair elections, he said.

In its endeavour to check paid news, the EC had no intention to impose press censorship.

The commission had reasonable success in controlling paid news during the poll period in several States, said Mr. Rout, who has experience of conducting polls in over a dozen States.

Following the model adopted in the Bihar elections, the Election Commission has set up State- and district-level media certification and monitoring committees (MCMC) to check instances of paid news ahead of the Assembly polls.

The MCMCs monitor instances of paid news in districts. However, only by self-regulation could media houses control paid news. The Hindu had highlighted the issue of paid news extensively in Maharashtra, Mr. Rout said.

Appeal to media

He appealed to the print and electronic media not to project any candidate or the party and thereby influence voters just 48 hours before the polling. Projecting a candidate or a party 48 hours before polling was an offence under the Representation of People Act.

About the availability of affidavits of candidates, the Director-General said all affidavits of candidates who file their nominations would be posted on the website of the Chief Electoral Officer, Karnataka.

K. Giriprakash, Chief of Bureau, The Hindu Business Line, Bangalore, inaugurated the workshop in the presence of Chief Electoral Officer Anil Kumar Jha, Officer on Special Duty (Expenditure Monitoring) Pankaj Kumar Pandey, and Principal Secretary, Kannada and Culture, Basavaraju.

A Jayaram, former Chief of Bureau, The Hindu, Bangalore, and other journalists spoke on election and media-related issues.

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