Paid news phenomenon, a complex problem: CEC
Terming paid news phenomenon as a complex problem, the Election Commission on Monday said it could best be addressed by "self-regulation" by media and political parties which was not happening.
The EC is concerned about the undue influence that paid news can create in the mind of the voter whose right to correct and unbiased information needed protection, Chief Election Commissioner S Y Quraishi said.
"In our estimate, the problem of paid news is best addressed by self-regulation by media and political parties. But that is not happening," he said at an international meet on "Best Electoral Practices" organised on the eve of the launch of National Voters' Day.
He talked about the need to accord priority to voters' education by election managers and increasing role of money power in Indian elections.
Noting that paid news hoodwinked the enforcement of the expenditure ceiling with particular importance for a level playing field, he said "exercise of undue influence is a misuse of media power and we need to intervene in the context of elections."
Elaborating on measures to probe cases of paid news, the CEC said the Commission set up vigilance cells that kept a close eye on whatever was published and broadcast, to watch aberrations.
"We have issued notices and started hearing complaints. In a recent provincial general election, after 86 notices were issued, several candidates admitted to the charge and included expenditure on paid news in their returns. But this again is just the beginning of what looks to be an intriguing and long struggle," he said.
Expressing concern over money power in elections, Quraishi said though the EC had almost a full measure of success in dealing with muscle power and a high measure of success in dealing with incumbency power, the role of money power remains a big issue in Indian elections.
Though rules permitted election expenditure of about 50,000 US dollars (Rs 25 lakhs) for a candidate contesting for Parliament and about 20,000 US dollars (Rs 10 lakhs) for assembly, he said unofficial estimates suggest amounts many times more are spent on canvassing, including on "allurements and illegitimate publicity".
"Recently, we decided to step on the gas. We created a whole new division in the Election Commission just a few months back for monitoring the election expenditures," the CEC said.
Elaborating on other measures to check this menace, he said, "It is a long road ahead. Our fight against the vicious influence of money in the elections will continue".
Emphasising the need to increase voters' participation in elections, Quraishi said election managers have not accorded priority to voters' education and "urban apathy and youth indifference" to the electoral process needed to be tackled.
"Participation based on voluntary inclination and motivation of the individual voters and persuasion by election machinery, rather than compulsion needs to be encouraged. For this to happen, voter education holds the key," he said.
Quraishi said the new strategy and follow up programmes have yielded significant results in Jharkhand and Bihar where over 16 to 20 per cent increase in voters' participation was achieved against a very low base.
"The same determined approach of systematic voters' education will be pursued in the five state elections that are coming up in the next couple of months," the CEC said.