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Paid news under election panel lens

Ranchi, Feb. 3: All media publications (print and electronic) in Jharkhand will soon be under scrutiny to check the menace of “paid news”.

For, the Cabinet (election) department, which works under the Election Commission (EC), is all set to constitute state and district level committees to keep tab on such “surrogate advertising” in view of the upcoming Lok Sabha polls.

Both the committees — to be led by state chief electoral officer P.K. Jajoria— will keep a hawk’s eye on all kinds of news published through various media houses, be it print or electronic.

This is being done in accordance with an EC directive, based on a Supreme Court order, to ensure that voters cast their ballot without being influenced by targeted news items or reports that either hype or harm the image of a candidate.

Joint secretary of the department A.K. Rao told The Telegraph that paid news would be strictly monitored because publication or airing of such kind of news fell under election campaign, but political parties never showed it in their campaign expenditure statement.

“Every political party must produce its campaign expenditure. But ‘paid news’ is a practice whose expenses they do not reveal. This time, all news items published or broadcast after the announcement of election dates will be monitored rigorously for further action,” Rao said.

The department is currently in the process of constituting the six-member state level and five-member district level committees for the purpose.

So what actions will the committees take?

“As of now, the committees are under constitution with the chief electoral officer as its chairman. As soon as the entire panel is formed, we would hold a meeting to decide upon the guidelines,” Rao said.

He added that apart from him and Jajoria, the panels would also have an Indian Information Service officer and a representative from Press Council of India. “The rest is yet to be decided,” Rao quipped.

Jagdeep Chokar, a founder member of Association for Democratic Reforms, a national level organisation working on electoral reforms, welcomed the move.

Chokar told The Telegraph that if the committees worked seriously, there was no reason why paid news could not be checked. “Reality is not difficult to hide. Why only the committees, even voters should expose any kind of paid news,” Chokar added.

Rampant use of paid news had come to light in Jharkhand during 2009 general elections, with allegations that one of the former chief ministers of the state had “lavishly” paid some scribes in East and West Singhbhum and also some media houses to write in favour of him.


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