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Paid news should be declared an electoral offense: Election Commission

Thursday, 6 March 2014 - 6:00am IST | Place: New Delhi | Agency: dna

Describing "paid news" as the biggest threat to fair polls, the Election Commission on Wednesday said it should be made an electoral offense.

The Election Commission has pegged the paid news market, often disguised as political coverage and advertising above Rs500 crore.

"There is no law explaining paid news as an offence. We have made a proposal to the law ministry to make it an electoral offence," chief election commissioner V Sampath said after announcing the schedule of Lok Sabha polls.

Reflecting the seriousness of the Commission, Sampath had written to editors on March 1, cautioning them against publishing paid news, which he has described as the biggest threat to fair polls.

In the past state and national elections, including the 2009 election, many politicians were accused of using "paid news" to undermine the fair play and gain an edge over their rivals without overshooting the poll expenditure limit.

In his letter to the editors, Sampath said, "A fair election is about ensuring a level playing field and keeping out undue influence."

So far, the government has paid a lip service to Election Commission's missives on the menace of paid news.

In November last year, the government had introduced a draft law that prescribed suspending the licence of publications that publish paid content as news or analysis but failed to make it to the parliament as it could never come out from the files of the law ministry.

Under the present system, the issue of paid news is dealt by either the Press Council of India or the Election Commission, but both are quasi-judicial bodies, not having enough powers to check the menace effectively. At the most they can reprimand the violators by giving them a show cause notice.

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