New tactics to flout Election Commission rules on “paid news” by J Balaji
Before filing papers, prospective candidates enter into a tacit deal with media, says EC
Even as it is tightening the noose around the media-candidates' nexus to thwart “paid news” instances through its district media committees and expenditure observers, the Election Commission has come to know about new strategies worked out by them to break the rules.
“We have received reports that such ‘paid news' transactions had taken place in some instances in the current Assembly elections in five States well before the filing of the nomination by prospective candidates,” said Commission's Director-General Akshay Raut.
Informed sources said since the “election expenditure account” of a candidate, including the spending for media publicity, would come under the scrutiny of the expenditure observers only from the day his candidature was accepted by the Returning Officer, some of them, in collusion with a few ‘corrupt' journalists/media houses, do all transactions and reach unsigned understanding for providing publicity or write in their support well before the papers were filed.
According to rules, each candidate had to open a bank account for carrying out “election expenditure account” and “paid news” instances took place well before that either by cash or kind, the sources said.
But Commission officials have agreed that compared to 120 “paid news” complaints received during the October-November 2010 Bihar Assembly elections, this time — in five States — complaints did not even cross 80. The complaints were almost equal against both the electronic and the print media.
On action against those indulging in “paid news,” the sources quoted the Commission's October 20, 2011 order disqualifying Bisauli (Uttar Pradesh) MLA Umlesh Yadav (Rashtriya Parivartan Dal) for three years.
Matter referred to PCI
As far as action against media was concerned, the Commission referred the matter to the Press Council of India (PCI) for follow-up measures. Even in the Bihar polls, it had referred about eight complaints relating to “paid news” on media to the PCI, the sources added.
A complaint relating to “paid news” against the former Maharashtra Chief Minister Ashok Chavan is being heard by the Commission though the incident allegedly happened during the October 2009 Assembly elections.