Sources say the Commission has already given instructions to poll officials and Media Certification and Monitoring Committees (MCMC) in states to keep a vigil on paid news activities of political parties and account them as expenses of their candidates. At present, there is no limit on election expenses of political parties while candidates in assembly elections have a limit of Rs 16 lakh each in Gujarat and Rs 11 lakh each in Himachal Pradesh on their poll expenditure.
"The Media Certification and Monitoring Committee at various levels created for looking at paid news activities of candidates are also keeping track of paid news indulged in by political parties," EC Director General Akshay Raut told PTI. He said paid news practices by prospective candidates and political parties are being monitored by MCMCs even now and district electoral officers have been asked to prepare weekly paid news monitoring reports to check the spread of menace and monitor the practice behaviour for issue of notices later.
The Commission has already issued stricter guidelines for tackling 'Paid News' complaints asking MCMCs to issue notices within 96 hours of paid news incidents coming to light and also to candidates to reply to such notices within 48 hours. The Commission has also asked the Media Certification and Monitoring Committees (MCMC) in districts and state level to decide such cases within the 48 hours of getting the replies.
The EC said: "The District/State level MCMC shall decide on the reply expeditiously, preferably with in 48 hours of receiving of reply and convey to the candidate/party its final decision." EC officials said candidates found indulging in paid news practices will be notified after they are officially nominated by various political parties for issue of notices to them.
"The EC is taking note of various paid news practices of political parties and is keeping track of their activities and if such cases of paid news are found, the amount will be accounted for as expenditure of their candidates," Raut said.
The EC is taking the 'paid news' issue seriously during the upcoming assembly elections in Gujarat and Himachal Pradesh and has also sent illustrations of paid news cases for the poll officials to ascertain the kind of paid news. The fresh steps are being take to curb the menace of paid news' and will cover cinema halls, besides TV channels, cable networks and radio including private FM channels.
"Paid news issue is actually a learning process for us also. We tried to improve upon our instructions from election to election," Chief Election Commissioner V S Sampath said earlier. He said for the first time not only committees will be monitoring paid news at district and state levels, notices will be also served immediately the moment they suspect paid news, giving strict timelines and further action will be initiated after replies are obtained. "We hope the monitoring of paid news this time will be definitely more effective than in the past," the CEC said.