The quiet hill state of Himachal Pradesh is the second most notorious as far as paid news is concerned. The 2012 assembly elections in the state witnessed 104 confirmed paid news instances from across the parties, second only to Punjab which had a humungous 523 cases.
Paid news has been an electoral offence since 2010. As per the status of the paid news available with the Election Commission, the number of confirmed cases in Himachal was on the higher side as compared to other states in the last assembly elections held in these respective states since 2010.
The same year, in other states, the confirmed cases of paid news were 97 in UP, 30 in Uttarakhand, 414 in Gujarat and nine in Goa.
Certain cases are still in process and some are getting modified in both Punjab and Goa, according to the data available with the EC.
Since the monitoring on paid news cases came into being in 2010, the status of paid news during the Bihar elections of 2010 revealed 15 cases.
Assembly elections in other states in 2011 accounted for several cases too - 65 cases in Kerala, three in Puducherry, 42 in Assam, eight in West Bengal and 22 in Tamil Nadu.
In the assembly elections held last year, no cases were reported in the north-eastern states of Tripura, Meghalaya, Nagaland and Mizoram.
While 93 such cases were reported in Karnataka, 165 in Madhya Pradesh, 25 in Delhi, 32 in Chhattisgarh and 81 in Rajasthan.
A statistical report on the assembly elections of Himachal-2012 with the chief electoral office of the state reveals that notices issued in paid news cases to party candidates of various parties included 16 candidates of the Congress, 12 of BJP, 13 independents and four of the Trinamool Congress (TMC).
Cases of paid news were reported from 10 districts while no cases were reported from the two tribal districts - Kinnaur, and Lahaul and Spiti.
In descending order, cost of the news item was the highest by independent candidate Rakesh Chopra (Ghumarwin assembly constituency) at `1.02 lakh; Rajinder Rana, independent candidate (Sujanpur winner) paid `58,785; TMC candidate Ram Sawroop from Solan paid `55,748; Ram Lal Thakur of Congress in Naina Devi paid `39,205; Ram Kumar Chaudhary, Congress winner from Solan (also accused in a murder case) paid `38,904.
The list also includes independent Roop Singh, TMC's Parmod Sharma; BJP's Narender Bragta; Vinod Kumar of the BJP (winner); Khimi Ram, BJP; Gulab Singh, BJP (winner); Rakesh Jamwal, BJP; Prakash Chaudhary, Congress (winner); Dhani Ram Shandil, Congerss (winner, now a cabinet minister); Inder Dutt Lakhanpal, Congress (winner); Rajiv Bindal, BJP's former minister (winner); and Congress winner Anirudh Singh, among others.
It was officer on special duty Neeraj Kumar Sharma who identified and reported the cases.
The commission has also appointed a media certification and monitoring committee (MCMC) at the district and state levels for checking paid news. It scrutinises all media within its jurisdiction to identify political advertisement in the garb of news, Sharma said.
About action, he said the cost accounted for the news item is considered an election advertisement of the candidate in question, and added in the election expenditure.
As far as media is concerned, once the cases are decided as paid news, the print media cases are sent to the EC for referring it to the Press Council of India for action against the media house concerned, while those related to electronic media are referred to the National Broadcasters' Association for consideration by National Broadcasting Standards Authority.
Paid news as defined by the Press Council of India is any news or analysis appearing in any media (print and electronic) for a price in cash or kind as consideration.
The malaise is that paid news misleads the public and hampers the ability of people to form correct opinion, it causes undue influence on voters and also affects their right to information and it also seeks to circumvent election expenditure laws or ceiling besides adversely affecting level-playing field.