Newspapers and news channels will be scrutinised for the publication or telecast of paid news or surrogate advertisements during future elections, the Election Commission (EC) has decided.
The state poll panel officials have asked district collectors to look out for paid news in the future.
The decision is the fallout of a case filed against Chief Minister Ashok Chavan, who has been accused of using money to publish paid news in several newspapers during the 2009 state Assembly election campaign.
Chavan and the newspapers involved have denied the allegations. If proven guilty, Chavan could lose his Assembly seat.
The EC has postponed the hearing of the case against Chavan — which was to continue today — to an unspecified date. Following the EC’s instruction to state chief electoral officers to keep vigil through special committees at district levels for general and assembly elections, Shekhar Channe, deputy chief electoral officer (Maharashtra), said the guidelines were circulated to all district collectors a fortnight ago.
District collectors act as election officers for parliamentary and Assembly polls.
Neela Satyanarayan, chief of state election commission, which conducts municipal and district elections, said the new rules would be applicable for them too.
It will be the district committees’ responsibility to look out for the paid news.
The expenses incurred on paid news will be included in the candidate’s account. The EC has ceilings for election expenses and treats anything exceeding the prescribed limit as corrupt practice.
The case against the Congress leader was filed by Madhav Kinhalkar, an independent candidate in the Bhokar Assembly poll. Chavan beat Kinhalkar by the highest margin in the state.
Kirit Somaiya, a Bharatiya Janata Party leader, said: “We have submitted all proofs and necessary documents to the EC.
Our argument is primarily based on the incorrect return of poll expenditure filed by Chavan and will continue.”
The matter has also been taken up by the Press Council of India, which recorded Chavan’s and others’ statements earlier in the year.
They have taken note of the matter.