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June 29, 2017

Why in news?

The Election Commission disqualified Narottam Mishra, Minister in the Madhya Pradesh government from membership of any State legislature and contesting polls for the next three years for filing wrong accounts of election expenditure.

What happened?

  • The EC’s order cites the issue of “paid news.” Mr. Mishra had paid for favourable coverage in newspapers during the course of the elections but had failed to mention expenses incurred for the same.
  • The candidate denies authorising the publication and takes the plea that he or she could not possibly account for something that was not paid for.
  • So, in this case, the EC has taken the view that even if it were true that he made no payment, he should have included a notional amount in his accounts.
  • Also, as long as the intention to boost someone’s prospects was clear (and there was no objection from the candidate), the EC can rule that there was ‘implied authorisation’.

What is paid news?

  • Paid news or paid content are those articles in newspapers, magazines and the electronic media, which indicate favourable conditions for the institution that has paid for it.
  • The news is much like an advertisement but without the ad tag.
  • This kind of news has been considered a serious malpractice since it deceives the citizens, not letting them know that the news is, in fact, an advertisement.
  • Secondly, the payment modes usually violate tax laws and election spending laws.
  • More seriously, it has raised electoral concerns because the media has a direct influence on voters.

Is paid news an electoral offense?

  • Paid news is not an electoral offence yet, but there is a case to make it one.
  • The EC has recommended that the Representation of the People Act, 1951, be amended to make the publishing or abetting the publishing, of paid news to further a candidate’s prospects or prejudicially affect another’s an electoral offence.

What should be the way forward?

  • Mr. Mishra’s case pertains to the 2008 election, and by the time the Commission has given its verdict he is into his next term.
  • It is difficult not to notice that the enormous delay and is often created by candidates approaching the courts to stall inquiries.
  • A legal framework in which electoral issues are expeditiously adjudicated must also be put in place if election law is to be enforced in both letter and spirit.


Source: The Hindu

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