Election Commission of India recently communicated to the Supreme court on repeated publication of propaganda lauding the achievements and records of a candidate is nothing but “paid news”.
The EC has asked the court to declare whether a statement issues by, and in the name of, a candidate in a widely circulated daily newspaper amounts to “paid news”.
Such news should be viewed as direct appeal to voters by the candidate, hence, the politicians cannot say that it is part of their fundamental right to free speech to spew out such “motivated propagandas”.
“If such motivated propaganda is allowed in the garb of free speech during the election period, candidates with a strong network of connections and undefined relationships will exploit their sphere of influence in society and will have the unequal advantage of encashing such silent services,” the EC, represented by advocate Amit Sharma, said in a special leave petition.
The EC has challenged Delhi High Court verdict that quashed its decision to disqualify Madhya Pradesh BJP leader – Narottam Mishra for three years on charges of paid news. The High Court also stated that the Commission’s remit is limited to election expenditure incurred by candidates and not content of speech.
National Level Committee on Paid News found that five newspapers, with a wide circulation, had published 42 news items that were “biased and one-sided and aimed at furthering the prospects of Mr. Mishra”. The EC on June 23 last year disqualified Mr. Mishra for not filing the accounts of money spent as election expenses on news items.
The EC called such relationships between candidates and publications as an “unholy alliance”. EC said its appeal is significant as, restricting the scope of the EC in such matters by not allowing it to go into the contents of such paid news would prove to be a severe body blow in the efforts to check this growing menace that will further lead to corruption and inequality in election campaigning.
The ECI has previously written to the Union government, suggesting that paid news should be made an electoral offence under the Representation of People Act.