Make 'paid news' punishable offence: Panel

A parliamentary panel has favoured making “paid news” a cognizable and punishable electoral offence, a recommendation earlier made by the Election Commission of India gathering dust in the Law Ministry since 2011.

“The proposal made by the Election Commission is good one and merit urgent consideration of the government,” the parliamentary standing committee said in its report tabled in the Lok Sabha on Monday, pulling up the government for keeping the suggestion pending.

The Election Commission has recommended amendment in the law for strict prevention of the publication and broadcast of “paid news” by newspapers and channels. It has suggested bringing “paid news” in the category of corrupt practices under the Representation of the People Act, 1952, through an amendment.

The poll panel has recommended making publishing and abetting of publishing of “paid news” for furthering the prospects of election of any candidate as an electoral offence under chapter III of party VII of the 1951 Act, with exemplary punishment of a minimum of two years’ imprisonment.   

“The proposal is still pending with the Ministry of Law and Justice,” the parliamentary panel said, expressing its concern over the seriousness of the government towards dealing with the “menace of paid news”.

‘No urgent need’

The panel was of firm view that there was an “urgent need” to review the Representation of the People Act and bring changes in it to give more power to the Election Commission to firmly deal with the electoral malpractice.

“The increasing trend of presenting paid content as news, editorial, talk show and review is not only a serious fraud on the innocent audiences, readers, viewers and public but also a threat to the democratic process,” it underlined. 

The committee sought the information and broadcasting ministry to coordinate with the law ministry to ensure that an “early action” was taken on the suggestion made by the Election Commission.

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