Making paid news an electoral offence has been demanded from long. Paid news plays an important role in influencing the voters. The Election Commission’s order disqualifying Madhya Pradesh Minister Narottam Mishra for three years is an important step in curbing ‘paid news’.
- The Election Commission (EC) has disqualified a Minister for three years for filing wrong accounts of election expenditure.
- The membership has been revoked under section 10A of the Representation of the People Act, 1951.
What is paid news?
- According to Press Council of India, paid news is “any news or analysis appearing in any media (print & electronic) for a price in cash or kind as consideration”.
- It refers to propaganda in favour of a candidate masquerading as news reports or articles for a price in cash or kind as consideration. The news is much like an advertisement, but without the ‘ad tag’.
Is paid news an electoral offence?
- Paid news is not an electoral offence yet in India, but there is a case to make it one.
- However, the EC has recommended that the Representation of the People Act, 1951, be amended to make the publishing or abetting the publishing, of paid news to further a candidate’s prospects or prejudicially affect another’s an electoral offence.
Negatives of paid news:
- Affects people’s thinking and opinion:
This kind of news has been considered a serious malpractice since it deceives the citizens, not letting them know that the news is, in fact an advertisement and affecting people’ s rational thinking and opinion.
- Display of money power:
The payment modes usually violate tax laws and election spending laws. It displays the role of money in elections.
- Hits the bottom of democracy:
Such news play a significant role in influencing voting tendency of voters as the viewer does not get a correct picture of the personality or performance of the candidate in whose favour or against he decides to cast his vote. This destroys the very essence of the democracy.
- Affects free and fair elections:
Such practices interfere with free and fair elections in the country by violating democratic principle enshrined in our constitution.
- Curbs the faith of people in media:
Media is described as the fourth pillar of democracy. Such incidents bring down the faith of people in democratic institutions by conveying incorrect and false information to the people.
Reasons for rise in paid news:
- The Department-Related Parliamentary Standing Committee on Information Technology in its 47th report on the “Issues Related to Paid News” has identified corporatization of media, desegregation of ownership and editorial roles, decline in autonomy of editors/journalists due to emergence of contract system and poor wage levels of journalists as key reasons for the rise in the incidence of paid news.
- Besides these, lack of adequate powers available with regulators, lack of effective penal action against those who violate the rules and inaction by the government in cases related to paid news are also important reasons for rise in incidents of paid news.
Election Commission Guidelines to Curb Paid News
- All state Chief Electoral Officers will have to obtain a list of all TV and radio channels and newspapers in the state as well as their standard advertisement rate cards six months before the term of the Lok Sabha or the State Legislative Assembly expires.
- Setting up of Media Certification and Monitoring Committee (MCMC) at district and state level which will have to monitor all political advertisements in relation to candidates.
- The committee will intimate the Returning Officer for issue of notices to candidates for inclusion of notional expenditure based on standard rate cards in their election expenses account, “even if they actually do not pay any amount to the channel/newspaper, that is otherwise the case with paid news.”
- The expenditure will also include publicity for a candidate by a “star campaigner” or others, to impact his electoral prospects.
Challenges in dealing with paid news
- There is circumstantial evidence, but little proof. Establishing transaction of cash or kind is indeed not very easy, as it is usually done without any record and promptly denied by both sides, when enquired. Identifying the cases is a herculean task.
- Media violations, surrogate advertisement and unreported advertisements are often mistaken as Paid News sometimes in true cases.
- It is difficult to identify and solve the cases in a set time limit. The cases keep on pending for a long period of time before the courts.
- The independence of the media and its ability to bring about transparency in society by playing an adversarial role against the establishment get compromised because of corruption within the folds of the media itself and it is usually difficult to fix the accountability in such cases.
To curb such incidents in future, it is necessary to make ‘paid News’ an electoral offence through amendment of Representation of the People Act, 1951. The expenditure ceilings prescribed by Election Commission should be strictly adhered to by political parties and candidates. The people should be sensitized by creating awareness among them and seeking partnership with all stakeholders, including political parties and media.
- The media acts as a repository of public trust for conveying correct and true information to the people. The “paid news” is therefore, a serious matter as it influences the functioning of a free press. There is an urgent need to protect the right of the public to accurate information before voters exercise their franchise when such incidents are on rise.
- Hence, a legal framework in which electoral issues are expeditiously adjudicated must be put in place if election laws are to be enforced in both letter and spirit.
Q.1) The Election Commission’s order disqualifying a minister in the Madhya Pradesh government for three years is an important step in curbing ‘paid news’ in the electoral arena. Do you think ‘paid news’ should be considered as an electoral offence? Substantiate.
Q.2) With the increase in incidents of paid news across the country and the involvement of political leaders and political parties in such cases, discuss what are the challenges in dealing with paid news? Do you think EC should make paid news an electoral offence? Critically comment. What are the