Electoral Reforms In India

Publishing poll candidate’s propaganda is paid news: Election Commission


Mains Paper 2: Governance | Important aspects of governance, transparency and accountability, e-governance- applications, models, successes, limitations, and potential

From UPSC perspective, the following things are important:

Prelims level:  Legal Provisions for disqualification mentioned in newscard.

Mains level: Paid-news debate in India.


Paid News vs. Free Speech

  1. Repeated publication of propaganda lauding the achievements of a candidate in an election is nothing but “paid news”, the Election Commission of India has told the apex Court.
  2. Politicians cannot say that it is part of their fundamental right to free speech to spew out “motivated propaganda”.
  3. The EC has asked the court to declare whether it amounts to “paid news” if widely circulated daily newspapers cover statements issued by, and in the name of, a candidate.
  4. Such news are not only laudatory of his or her record and achievements but also are a direct appeal to voters by the candidate.

Unequal advantage

  1. If such motivated propaganda is allowed in the name of free speech during the election period, candidates with a strong network of connections will exploit their sphere of influence in society.
  2. This will have the unequal advantage of encashing such silent services.
  3. The commission has moved the court in appeal against a decision of the Delhi High Court to set aside the disqualification of a MP in Madhya Pradesh.
  4. ECI’s National Level Committee on Paid News found that five newspapers, with a wide circulation, had published 42 news items that were biased and one-sided and aimed at furthering the prospects of the leader.
  5. Some of the reports were advertisements in favour of him. The committee concluded that the items fitted the definition of “paid news”.

Way Forward

  1. The conduct of the eager supporters, whose extensive coverage, as in this case, being dubbed as freedom of expression cannot be termed news.
  2. This is so because ‘news’ is expected to be unbiased and characterized by dispassionate coverage and proportionate space to other contenders.
  3. If the court shut its eye to this case, “the assertion of freedom of speech would become a stock pretence or plea by the service provider and the beneficiary candidate”.
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