As it plans to grill two former chief ministers — Ashok Chavan and Madhu Koda — over their alleged involvement in cases relating to paid news, the Election Commission has already confirmed as many as 787 cases of paid news in the recently concluded Lok Sabha elections.
Of the 3,100 notices that have been issued to candidates for having indulged in paid news, 787 have been confirmed by the Media Certification and Monitoring Committees (MCMCs) set up the Election Commission.
The maximum number of notices — 2,168 in all — have been issued in Andhra Pradesh. “Of these, 116 have already been confirmed as those of paid news,” a source in the poll panel told The Indian Express.
In Rajasthan, of the total 267 notices served, 223 have been confirmed as cases of paid news. Similarly, 152 out of the 182 notices issued in Punjab have already been confirmed as those of paid news. All the 86 notices issued in Uttar Pradesh have been confirmed as paid news, sources said.
Officials in Nirvachan Sadan said the MCMCs set up at the local levels were processing these cases and many more notices could soon get converted into confirmed cases of paid news.
Once a candidate acknowledges having paid for news, the expenses incurred on news are added to their expenditure registers wherein their expenditures cannot exceed the recently revised ceiling of Rs 70 lakh per candidate (except for the states of Aruanchal Pradesh, Goa and Sikkim where the ceiling is Rs 54 lakh per candidate).
Significantly, with paid news not an electoral offence under the Representation of the People Act, the Election Commission has only been able to deal with it from purely an expenditure angle, which essentially involves booking the expenses on news to the overall expenditure account of a candidate in case a charge is proven against or acknowledged by the candidate. The Election Commission has been batting for making paid news and offence under the Representation of the People Act and have already sent proposals to the Law Ministry.
In its final days, the outgoing UPA government was learnt to be considering making “paid news” a punishable offence under the Press and Registration of Books Act, 1867. But the proposal did not make it to the Union Cabinet.
The Press Council Of India, too, in the past has recommended amending the Act to make “paid news” a punishable electoral malpractice.
Meanwhile, the next hearing in the complaint against Ashok Chavan has been scheduled for May 30.
“We have asked both the complainant and the respondent to present their respective sides on May 26. Once that is in, the next hearing will take place,” a source in the Election Commission said.
The hearing into allegations against Madhu Koda will be taken up for hearing on May 26.