Press Council of India (PCI), after a three-day sitting of its Inquiry Committee, observed that the state election authorities have little appreciation of the nuances of journalism and appear singularly unqualified to pass judgment on what is news and what may be paid news.
In many cases, the mere publication of a news report or interview of a candidate or coverage of a public meeting or press conference by a candidate was erroneously held by the state authorities as paid news.
PCI Chairman C K Prasad, speaking at a press meet here on Wednesday, said Election Commission of India guidelines mandate the institution of Media Certification and Monitoring Committees (MCMCs) at the district and state level to monitor paid news.
By its order dated March 11, 2015 passed in the presence of Deputy Chief Electoral Officer, Karnataka, the Inquiry Committee had directed the Chief Electoral Officer (CEO), Karnataka to furnish to the council the reports of the MCMCs and the names and details of members of district and state level MCMCs.
Details not supplied
He said, the Inquiry Committee notes with regret that neither the Chief Election Commissioner nor the Chief Electoral Officer gave due attention to the issue. Despite notice, neither the CEO nor his representative was present at the proceedings. Details were also not supplied.
Election authorities before making the findings of paid news ought to have applied themselves judiciously to the issue at hand especially because adverse findings were bound to cause severe injury to the reputation of news-papers/periodicals. From the material perused by the Inquiry Committee, it’s clear the election authorities failed in this task and have irreparably damaged reputation of institutions of the press without proper justification, he stated.
Inquiry Committee has recommended that the PCI urgently address the Election Commission of India to make significant improvements in its apparatus to monitor paid news. It has expressed concern that improper monitoring as in the case of Karnataka not only vilifies the press as an institution, but also allows space to real culprits to indulge in the practice of paid news with impunity, he said.