Paid news should be made an electoral offence that attracts disqualification so that it acts as a deterrent, Chief Election Commissioner V S Sampath suggested and said inadequacies in legal framework were not allowing the poll panel to effectively check this and other malpractices.
He also said that there is a “crying need” for a “well defined legislation” governing expenditure of political parties during elections as its absence was allowing them and their candidates to circumvent the rules.
Sampath, who was speaking at a session organised by the Law Commission, said that when the Election Commission looked into whether it had the powers to deal with paid news it found the “answer was negative.”
He said that ‘paid news’ in whatever form or nomenclature is presently not even an electoral offence.
“If it is an electoral offence, it can eventually lead to the disqualification of the candidate. Whatever the difficulties of implementation, the very fact that if it is listed as electoral offence, it would act as a deterrent against people using it in the elections,” he said.
The CEC said that a recommendation in this regard has been made to the Law Ministry.
He even wondered why the government advertisements during elections should not be considered as paid news.
Paid news not being an electoral offence, he said, EC now tries to check this menace by invoking its powers related to candidates’ spending. He said that if a candidate is caught, the amount is added to the candidate’s expenditure.
He, however, claimed that when caught, the candidates have found their own way to wriggle out of it.
“When they (candidates) file their expenditure returns, they always build a cushion for this kind of things. If Rs. 40 lakh those days was the limit, invariably no candidate would file a return for more than Rs. 25 lakh. That 15 lakh will be the cushion for this,” Sampath said.
He said that the EC catches instances of paid news but it is like “they were paying some traffic fine, and they will do that and continue with the journey merrily”.