Election Commission sleeping on paid news cases?

New Delhi, Sep 14: Four months after the Election Commission announced that 694 confirmed cases of paid news have been detected in the general elections it is yet to send any formal intimation to the Press Council of India, the body mandated to take action against erring media organisations.

A PCI official said they are unable to serve show cause notices to publications allegedly involved in paid news in the absence of an EC statement.

"We're aware that nearly 700 cases of paid news took place during the Lok Sabha polls, but we cannot act on the basis of media reports. We normally wait for a statement from the Election Commission, which we have not received yet," Punam Sibbal, deputy secretary of PCI, told IANS.

In fact, after a long wait of four months the PCI last week issued a reminder to the EC, contending that it is unable to take any action in the matter as a formal statement carrying details of the paid news incidents is yet to arrive.

Sibbal said the EC is yet to respond to their reminder.

By the time the 10 phases of polls ended to form the 16th parliament, thousands of cases of paid news were reported, according to EC officials.

On May 12, on the completion of the last leg of the polls, EC director general Akshay Rout told the media that in 3,053 cases notices were issued by the EC's Media Certification and Monitoring Committee on suspicion of foul play.

"We served 3,053 notices, 694 of which were found to be genuine cases of paid news by our committee," Rout had said.

In some cases, the PCI constitutes its own committees to detect paid news and initiate action. But since the current term of the PCI expired in June, that option is not available, officials said.

The government is yet to constitute a new edition of PCI - adding to the delay in handling cases of paid news.

"Notification for reconstitution of PCI is awaited due to procedural delays on the part of the Information and Broadcasting Ministry," Sibal told IANS.

She said the PCI has already made a list of 20 of the 28 members from three different categories of media owners, editors and working journalists.

"We need three members from the Lok Sabha, two from Rajya Sabha, and one each from the Bar Council, the University Grants Commission and Sahitya Akademi," she said.

The delay in reconstitution of the self-regulatory body is due to the fact that the three members from the Lok Sabha had not been notified till as late as last week, she added.

Asked if the EC is making unusual delay in sending them a statement on cases of paid news, she said she is unable to comment on that.

When IANS contacted EC on the same, a senior official said that all cases of paid news are from the states, which are in the process of verifying the allegations.

"The candidates (who were involved in giving money for publishing or broadcasting favourable news) have a right to appeal; so there is a delay," another official told IANS requesting anonymity.

He said that the final appeal lies with the EC, without giving any further information on whether the poll panel has received any plea for appeal from involved parties.

Asked when the EC is likely to intimate the PCI about the paid news cases, he said "no tentative date can be given."


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