[RPA] Paid News, Election commission Guidelines, why Amend RPA, Ethics in Journalism

In polity by Mrunal

  1. Prologue
  2. What is paid news?
  3. Why is Paid news bad?
  4. What has Election commission done? 
  5. What has press council done?
  6. Suggest further reforms
  7. Challenges ahead
  8. Appendix: Expenditure and Deposit limits

Prologue

  • Topic in news: 2014, October because Chief Election Commissioner (CEC) said we need to amend RPA, make paid news an election offense with minimum 2 years jail time and candidate’s disqualification.
  • Relevance in UPSC civil service Exam?
    • CSAT: Expenditure limits related MCQs
    • GS2: Salient features of the Representation of People’s Act.
    • GS4: Case studies involving ethics in journalism.
    • Essay: Fodder for Media -pillar of democracy and topics of similar theme.

What is paid news?

  • It is a news article, editorial or headline banner.
  • Appearing in print/electronic media.
  • For which the editor, journalist OR media-house has accepted cash or kind.
  • Some examples of Paid news:
    • Newspaper publishing a banner headline on FrontPage stating that a Mr. X is ready to create history in the __ election. But reporter has not presented any news item related to this headline.
    • News item stating that one candidate is getting the support of each and every section of society and that he would win elections from the constituency.

Why is Paid news bad?

  1. Election Commission (EC) has setup limits on election Expenditure. But if rich candidates are secretly paying media houses for favorable reporting, then poor candidates don’t get a level playing field in election campaigning.
  2. Reduces voter turnout. Since Paid news creates an atmosphere that only Mr.X will win, then some of supporters of Mr.Y, won’t goto polling-booth, thinking their time and vote will be wasted anyways.
  3. Thus, Paid news prevents voters from selecting right candidate.

What has Election commission done to stop paid news?

Paid News in India Election commission

Suggest the steps to curb Paid news during elections

  1. Under Representation of Peoples’ Act (RPA) – 48 hours before the polling, media cannot display any news that can influence the voters. (else jail 2 years)
  2. Media cannot run exit polls until the election polling phases are complete. if in doubt, they should seek permission of District election officer.
  3. EC has ordered the District Collectors to meet with Political Parties and media houses, to inform them about “consequences” of surrogate advertising and Paid News.
  4. EC has setup MCMC Committee at every district and state level. MCMC=Media Certification & Monitoring Committee.
  5. This Committee is made up of Returning officer, representatives from I&B ministries.
  6. They scrutinize all media coverage within their jurisdiction.
  7. If they suspect a paid news or surrogate news, they seek explanation from respective candidate.
  8. If reply unsatisfactory, then they include money spend on the paid news, in candidate’s election Expenditure.
  9. EC has also written to Press council of India to set clear guidelines and punishment.

What has press council done?

They’ve issued following guidelines

  1. Advertisement and news items should be set in different fonts.
  2. News should carry credit line / source. Ads should carry disclaimers.
  3. newspapers should not exaggerated reports about any candidate/party or incident during the elections
  4. Newspaper should not leave out any important point raised by a candidate.
  5. Should not promote feelings of hatred between people about religion, race, caste, community or language.
  6. Must not publish unverified allegations against any candidate/party.
  7. Must not accept any inducement/money/gift/hospitality/facilities from any candidate or party.
  8. Press shall not accept/publish any advertisement at the cost of public exchequer regarding achievements of a party/government in power.

News Broadcasters Association

They also issued similar guidelines like PCI. Additionally following points given:

  1. News broadcasters should maintain a clear distinction between editorial and expert opinion carried on their news channels.
  2. must not broadcast any hate speech
  3. All paid content should be clearly marked as “Paid Advertisement” or “Paid Content”
  4. Exit polls: should explain the methodology used, the sample size, the margin of error, the fieldwork dates, and data used. Broadcasters should also disclose how vote shares are converted to seat shares.

Suggest further reforms

CEC has proposed following:

  1. Right now, Paid news is not an electoral offense. In worst case scenario, candidate will be considered guilty for exceeding election Expenditure limits. In that case he just has to pay fine. No disqualification, No deterrence.
  2. Therefore, we need to amend Representation of People’s act 1951, to make “paid news” an electoral offense, with minimum 2 years jailtime and disqualification of candidate.
  3. Government ads before polls, should be considered “paid news”. (recall the Madhav menon said Government should not display ads before election except job-tender and public safety.)
  4. Enact a law for opinion polls conducted by TV channels.
  5. Additionally, we need to make clear guidelines on election Expenditure because:
    1. Candidate’s poll Expenditure is counted from the day he files nomination. Therefore, politicians spend crores on media-campaign before filing nomination. (some of them even delay nomination till last date).
    2. Poll Expenditure limits is for candidates and none for political parties. This rule is also misused.

Challenges ahead

  1. It is very difficult to prove paid news because money transfer done via Hawala and sometimes “in kind” e.g. land-allotment after election, free wine-n-dine, luxury phones, tours.
  2. Contractual employment in media houses- journalist don’t truly have ‘independence’. Editors and Media owners enjoy too much discretionary powers.
  3. Companies with political affiliations. They enter in “private treaties” with media house. Product advertisement contracts given, in exchange of biased reporting during elections.
  4. Companies with political affiliations themselves, own media-houses and news channels.

Therefore, nuisance of paid new can be fixed only by ‘self-regulation’ of political parties and media houses. RPA-amendment alone, will be insufficient.

Appendix

Election Expenditure limits
State Lok Sabha Vidhan Sabha
Large states: MP, UP, WB etc. 70 lakh 28 lakh
North East & hill states 53 lakh (incl.Goa & other small states) 20 lakh

Above limits are decided under representation of people’s act 1951=> conduct of election rules, 1961.

Deposit amount for Lok Sabha elections
Category Lok Sabha (Rs.) Vidhan Sabha (Rs.)
Gen/OBC 25,000 10,000
SC/ST=50% less than above. 12,500 5,000

above limits are decided by Representation of People’s Act 1951=> section 34/1/b.

If the candidate fails to get a minimum of one-sixth of the total valid votes polled=> deposit taken away, sent to treasury.

Mock Question (GS2): Paid news is a tantamount to committing a fraud on the voters. Discuss the steps taken by Election commission of India to curb this malpractice and suggest reforms in Representation of People’s act, if any. 200 words.

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