Declare paid news an electoral malpractice, say parties

New Delhi : Senior leaders of the Congress, the Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) and the Communist Party of India-Marxist (CPI-M) Saturday suggested amending the Representation of People’s Act (RPA) to declare paid news an electoral malpractice.

At a seminar on paid news organised by the Editors Guild of India and the Indian Women’s Press Corps, Leader of Opposition in the Lok Sabha Sushma Swaraj (BJP), CPI-M general secretary Prakash Karat and Congress spokesman Manish Tewari called for steps to check the malpractice, which had been widely noticed in the 2009 Lok Sabha elections.

The suggestion to declare paid news an electoral malpractice came from Karat, who said self-regulation by the media would not be enough to solve the problem. The suggestion was supported by the other two parties.

“Paid news should be declared an electoral malpractice. If existing laws do not allow this, then suitable changes can be made,” he said, noting that the model code of conduct for elections does not cover the problem.

Sushma Swaraj said that law would need to be amended to categorise paid news as an electoral malpractice.

Citing the example of her own election from Vidisha, she said her media officials were approached with packages of Rs.1 crore.

“I rejected them all,” she said, adding that separate “packages” were offered to individual candidates and political parties.

Tewari said there was need to address the “contradiction between freedom of press and the freedom of the owner of press”.

Stressing self-regulation for the media, he also called for giving statutory basis to the model code of conduct for elections.

Election Commissioner S.Y. Qureshi and former MP Shahid Siddiqui also participated in the discussion, which saw questions being asked about the role and responsibility of proprietor and editor in the context of paid news.

Editors Guild of India president Rajdeep Sardesai, who moderated the discussion, raised the issue of disclosure by TV news channels of the sponsorship of a programme if a political party had paid money for it.

Veteran journalist Kuldip Nayar suggested setting up a media commission to go into the “affairs of TV and print media”.

Disagreeing with Sushma Swaraj’s argument that political parties were victims of paid news, Jagdeep S. Chhokar of the Association for Democratic Reforms said that only four of nearly 6,500 candidates in the last general elections had declared their expenditure to be more than the ceiling prescribed by the Election Commission.

He said 30 candidates had declared that their expenditure was in the range of 80 to 90 percent of the limit while most had declared it to be less than 50 percent of the limit.

Prasar Bharti chairperson Mrinal Pande and chairperson and editorial director of Business Standard T.N. Ninan were among those who took part in the discussion.

The animated discussion threw up several suggestions from the audience, including a proposal for legislation to separate management and ownership functions of news organisations and strengthening the role of the Press Council of India.

The Press Association and Broadcast Editors Association were also associated with the seminar, whose recommendations will be forwarded to information and broadcasting ministry.

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