While announcing the schedule for elections to the Gujarat and Himachal Pradesh assemblies, VS Sampath, Chief Election Commissioner of India, underlined that the Commission would be taking a close look at the instances of paid media, if any, as well as a heightened scrutiny of expenses on advertising and publicity.
It’s not just erring candidates who would be in hot water – so will errant media. “Where the District/State level Committee or ECI decides that it is a Paid News case, such cases shall be conveyed to Press Council of India for further action in relation to the media concerned,” the EC says.
There’s more that publishers will have to be careful about. The EC has closed another hitherto used loophole – the practice of candidates professing no knowledge of advertisements in their support, and, thereby, not accounting for such expenses. In such instances, from now, the EC will take action to prosecute the publisher concerned.
The EC has, by and large, made it difficult for candidates to get away with the blatant disregard shown in earlier elections. The EC proposes, from this election on, to proactively look for issues of paid news and take immediate action, questioning both the candidate and the medium which carries the suspected paid news.
The most important aspect of the new system is the speed of action. The entire process, from complaint made by the MCMC, to informing the candidate, hearing his/her point of view and arriving at a final decision would, says the EC, be “ordinarily be completed within Election period”.
Last year, in a note titled ‘Measures to check ‘Paid News’ during elections i.e. advertisement in garb of news in Media and related matters’ the Election Commissioner had written to chief electoral officers of all the states/UTs to look into the expenses incurred on election-related advertising and on suspected instances of paid news. The Commission had also issued guidelines to the states and Union Territories to constitute Media Certification and Monitoring Committee (MCMC) in each district during election period to take up the a task of keeping a check on the cases of paid news.
Today, the CEC announced that the mechanism for efficiently monitoring paid news and certification of advertising before release in media for the two states would be in place well in time for the elections in the two states.
The MCMC shall have two distinct sets of functions:
(i) Certification of Advertisements for which two specific members of MCMC shall have to consider and decide on such advertisements for certification.
(ii) Examining complaints/issues of Paid News etc by all members through a monitoring arrangement.
The MCMC shall, besides discharging the functions of certification of advertisements and checking of paid news, also assist in enforcement of media-related regulations under the Representation of People Act.
The MCMC will scan all media (newspapers, print media, electronic media, cable network, internet, mobile network etc) for:
1. Suspected cases of paid news (it shall also actively consider paid news cases referred to it by the Expenditure Observers. It shall intimate the Returning Officer for issue of notices to candidates for inclusion of actual expenditure on the published matter or notional expenditure based on DIPR rates in their election expenses account (in absence of DIPR rates, DAVP rates may be used), either based on or irrespective of whether the candidate actually has paid or not paid any amount to the channel/newspaper. A copy of the notice shall also be marked to Expenditure Observer)
2. Monitoring of political advertisements in electronic media (for checking if the telecast/broadcast has been done only after certification by the Committee)
3. Monitoring political advertisements in other media, in relation to candidates, either overt or covert, from expenditure monitoring angle (this will also include publicity or advertisement or appeal by, or on behalf of candidate, or by star campaigner(s) or others, to impact candidate’s electoral prospects)
4. Advertisements in print media (MCMC shall check if the advertisement is with the consent or knowledge of candidate: in which case it will be accounted for in the election expenses of the candidate(s); however, if the advertisement is not with the authority from the candidate, then action may be taken for prosecution of the publisher for violation of Section 171H of IPC)3