An Election Commission panel called Media Certification and Monitoring Committee (MCMC), which works at the district and State levels to monitor political use of the media, has held four Lok Sabha election candidates in Maharashtra guilty of taking recourse to paid news.
Complaints against Congress candidates — Union Minister of State for shipping and IT Milind Deora (Mumbai South), Sanjay Nirupam (Mumbai North), Vishwajit Kadam (Pune) — and BJP candidate from Pune Anil Shirole have been found true out of 84 complaints of paid news that were received. The decision (of finding four candidates guilty) has been upheld by the State committee of the election office.
“Paid news” refers to the practice of disguising advertising as journalism. It allows politicians to keep their poll expenditure below the stipulated limit. The problem had been highlighted in a report by a sub-committee of the Press Council of India (PCI). The report was submitted to the PCI in April 2010. However, PCI was divided over its findings and published it after the Central Information Commission (CIC) in 2011 directed it do so as part of the suo motu disclosure mandated under the Right to Information Act.
It is strange that the statutes say that if the charge is established, the news items identified as paid news will be looked as advertisements and will be included in the election expenditure of the candidates.
Jatin Desai, member of the state committee, informed media persons that the decision of the Pune district committee regarding Anil Shirole and Vishwajit Kadam was upheld by the state committee. “The candidates have an option to challenge the order of the state committee within 48 hours of the receipt of the order,” he said.
Deora and Nirupam had initially challenged the order of the Mumbai district committee and the hearing was held before the state committee. All were held guilty by the district media watch and monitoring committee (DMWM) set up by EC. In case of Pune, candidates appealed to state committee and state committee upheld the district committee order. But the Mumbai candidates withdrew their appeal. Nirupam’s lawyer Pradyumna Waghmare said on a television news channel that he was not going to challenge the EC ruling as it would involve a cost of more than Rs.13,000, the amount that is said to be spent on the “paid news”. “We have admitted paid news charge under protest,” he said.
“Deora’s election agent and Nirupam’s lawyer told the state committee that they don’t want to pursue the matter,” Desai said. Deora and Nirupam will have to pay as per the Directorate for Advertising and Visual Publicity (DAVP) rates for advertisement in newspapers and the amount will be added in their election expenditure, he added.
सिर्फ़ News view: What about the politically undue advantage that the guilty managed to get by hoodwinking the people into believing that the media items that extolled these politicians were actually advertisements? How do the law breakers pay for such damages? The law does not have an answer. But shouldn’t the Election Commission order a repolling in the seats for which they contested? Ethics demands that they be debarred from contesting these elections. Only that will be a befitting punishment.
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