A petition has been filed before the Supreme Court demanding implementation of the recommendations of the Election Commission of India (ECI), Press Council of India (PCI), and the Law Commission of India (LCI) on paid news and political advertisements.
The petition, filed by BJP leader and Advocate Ashwini Kumar Upadhyay, also demands that publication of "paid news" be declared a corrupt practice under the Representation of Peoples Act, 1951.
It refers to LCI's 255th report on "Electoral Reforms". The report had noted that despite existence of guidelines for clear demarcation of advertisement and news content, these are either subverted or ignored altogether. The report had then suggested that the definitions of “paying for news”, “receiving payment for news” and “political advertisement” should be inserted in section 2 of the 1951 Act.
Further, it had suggested that "paying for news" / "receiving payment for news" be made an electoral offence, with punishment of disqualification under the Act. Besides, in order to curb the practice of disguised political advertisement, it had recommended disclosure provisions for all forms of media.
The petition goes on to refer to various similar recommendations by the ECI as well as the PCI. It submits that while the ECI had suggested prohibition of publication of advertisements by political parties for a period of 48 hours up to the conclusion of the poll, PCI had recommended that paid news should be declared a corrupt practice.
It then points out that even though advertisements on television are prohibited for a period of 48 hours up to the hour fixed for conclusion of poll, "due to the scope of the section falling short in this day and age, political parties and candidates not only make house-to-house visits, but also issue advertisements through Radio, Print Media and Digital Media during this period, including on the day of poll."
Highlighting the impact of such paid news and political advertisements on the citizens, it submits, "Black money and related financial malpractices are integral to paid news and political advertisements. They also result from candidates not revealing the extent of their campaign expenditure and go as unaccounted expenses. This creates an uneven playing field for the candidates, since not all candidates are situated similarly financially, even if it shows as such on paper...
...The trust and confidence of electoral demographic that our democracy enjoys will soon be lost, if paid news & political advertisements remain unattended and become new norm."
Thereafter, demanding that such measures suggested by all these authorities be implemented, the petition asserts, "...India is a socialist secular democratic republic and its foundation stone of free and fair election ought to be protected. Hence, both, the Executive and the ECI, which enjoys plenary power under Article 324, need to make desperate attempts to take steps forward in this regard."