Leaders, cutting across party lines, have demanded that paid news be treated as an electoral malpractice that is liable for prosecution by the Election Commission ( EC).
The spectre of selling news space in lieu of money reached ”alarming proportions” during the last Lok Sabha elections and political parties have demanded stringent action against the perpetrators since it compromises the essence of a free press.
They also demanded that the media exercise self- regulation and refuse to succumb to pressures of the market.
Speaking at a seminar organised here jointly by the Editors Guild of India, Press Associations, the Broadcaster Editors Association, and the Indian Women’s Press Corps, CPM general secretary Prakash Karat said the malice of paid news was the fallout of the amount of money involved in elections. Saying that self regulation alone will not be able to curb such practices, Karat said it should be termed as an electoral malpractice. Such classification will make it possible for the EC to file cases for any violation, he said.
Leader of the Opposition in the Lok Sabha, Sushma Swaraj claimed that politicians were the biggest victims of this syndrome.
Recalling her experience while campaigning in the Vidisha Lok Sabha constituency in Madhya Pradesh, Swaraj said a media organisation had demanded Rs 1 crore in return for publishing news items in her favour. She said she refused to give in to such demands and that she was ready to name the publication.
Congress spokesperson Manish Tiwari said the problem was much deeper as freedom of the press was now in contradiction with the freedom of the owner of the press. He also favoured self- regulation among the media.
Election commissioner S Y Quraishi said several political parties had informed the commission about paid news but no one had lodged a formal complaint. He cited technical problems as no direct evidence was available about money exchanging hands. He added that the EC would augment its machinery to tackle the problem.
Prasar Bharati chief Mrinal Pande said editors alone cannot be held responsible for what is appearing in newspapers as they cannot check each and every edition being published from different cities. Editors Guild president Rajdeep Sardesai suggested incorporating disclosure norms in news and programmes paid for by a particular party.
The India Today Group, which covers publications such as Mail Today and India Today and channels such as Aaj Tak and Headlines Today, have already pledged it would not allow its space to be used for paid news