Recognising the malaise of paid news, the Election Commission has proposed to the government to make it an electoral offence even as it continues to tackle it itself by monitoring the expenditures of candidates.
Addressing a press conference in New Delhi to announce the Lok Sabha poll schedule, Chief Election Commissioner V S Sampath said paid news has three aspects -- print media, electronic media and expenditure by candidates.
"Since there is no law (to deal with paid news), we have made a proposal to the law ministry to make it an electoral offence," he said. Meanwhile, he said, the Election Commission deals with the malaise by keeping a close watch on the expenditures of the candidates.
"The Election Commission is doing what is under its control. We have monitoring committees in districts and states. We add the expenditure to the expenditure account of the candidate concerned," Sampath said.
With regard to complaints about paid news in print media, he said the cases are referred to the Press Council of India. As far as complaints regarding paid news in electronic media are concerned, such cases are referred to the National Broadcasters Association, he said.
To a question regarding demands for banning opinion polls, the CEC said it is for Parliament to decide. "We never hesitate to use powers that we can. However, the issue of opinion polls is to be dealt with by the lawmakers. They have the legislative competence," he added.
The issue of banning opinion polls has been hanging fire since 2004.
The Chief Election Commissioner said a proposal to ban opinion polls was made in 2004 but only exit polls were banned. Existing law allows EC to ban opinion polls just 48 hours prior to voting.
The poll panel has proposed that there should be a prohibition on publication and broadcast of the results of opinion polls starting from the date of notification of elections till the completion of the last phase of polls to the Lok Sabha and state assemblies.
Attorney General G E Vahanvati, whose view was sought by the Law Ministry, has supported this proposal.
"As rightly pointed out by the EC, what is paramount is the necessity to have free and fair elections. One cannot disagree with the view of the EC that such opinion polls often tend to cause a prejudicial effect on the minds of the elector," Vahanvati had said in his opinion.
He said, "One must also take into consideration the view of the political parties at the meeting held on April 6, 2004 and the unanimous view expressed therein."
Responding to questions on false affidavits, Sampath said there are provisions that the Returning Officer or any citizen can file a complaint against the candidate seeking action.
Under the present provision, candidates found guilty of concealing, failing to furnish information or providing false information in the election affidavit face six months in jail and a fine.
With regard to convicted persons trying to contest polls, Sampath said, "There are sufficient safeguards". He said a candidate has to furnish details such as disclosure of pending cases and convictions in cases.
"Convicted people are not allowed to contest even as per law...in certain categories of conviction there is disqualification of nomination. We have got ample information about conviction of these people after the judgement of Supreme Court. We have also written to the state governments to keep us properly informed," the CEC said.