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29 cases of confirmed “Paid News” in Himachal polls

As replies in some cases are awaited, the number is expected to go up.

Bhawani Negi | Shimla |

There have been 29 news items declared “Paid News” during the Himachal Pradesh Assembly Polls-2022. As replies in some cases are awaited, the number is expected to go up.

The “Paid News” has been defined by the Press Council of India (PCI) as any news or analysis appearing in any media (print or electronic) for a price in cash or kind as a consideration. The Election Commission of India (ECI) goes by this definition.

District Media Certification and Monitoring Committees (MCMC) noticed 61 suspected cases of “Paid News”, as per the initial report compiled as of 11 November. In 37 cases, Returning Officers (ROs) have issued notices to candidates, whose names have not been updated by the MCMC.

In 14 cases, the candidates confessed to spending money on the news items while in 13 cases, the contestants didn’t reply.

Of the 29 confirmed cases, 24 alone belong to the Solan district while three are from Shimla and two from Bilaspur.

As per ECI’s ‘Compendium of Instructions On Election Expenditure Monitoring’, issued in September 2022, the MCMC has to submit a daily report on each candidate with respect to the expenditure incurred by him/her on election related advertisements “including the assessed cases of the paid news, along with supportive paper cuttings/clippings, recordings of relevant TV and radio advertisements, which will also be included in the Shadow Observation Register”.

As per the procedure, the RO issues notice to a candidate with regard to the incidents of “Paid News” in consultation with the Expenditure Observer for not showing the expenditure on such publication. The Expenditure Observer sends a report of “Paid News” along with a copy thereof to the Election Commission within 24 hours.

The Chief Electoral Officer (CEO) has to obtain a standard rate card from the TV channels, radio channels, and newspapers of the state before the due date of the expiry of the state assembly. Such rate cards will be given to an accounting team for the calculation of rates of advertisements. The accounting team calculates the expenditure involved at the DAVP/DIPR rate and will mention it in the Shadow Observation Register.

The Expenditure Observer will bring such discrepancies to the notice of the candidate or his election agent at the time of inspection and mention the discrepancies in the expenditure on account of “Paid News” in the remarks column of the Register of Election Expenses of the candidate.

During the 2017 HP Assembly polls, a total of 85 news items were declared as “Paid News”, the cost of which was added to the candidates’ expenses.

In the case of former HP Assembly Speaker and BJP leader Rajeev Bindal, there were three “Paid News” items, former Congress minister Sudhir Sharma had two and BJP leader Rakesh Pathania and Leader of Opposition Mukesh Agnihotri had one each.

From Solan alone, there were 62 cases of “Paid News”. These included 13 “Paid News” in favour of Congress’ Ram Kumar Chaudhary and 25 for Hardeep Singh Bawa, who contested from the Nalagarh seat as an Independent.

This year in the Assembly elections 2022, Bawa is contesting as a Congress candidate.

In the 2012 HP Assembly polls, there were 86 “Paid News” cases, including 28 from Mandi, 15 from Kullu, and 12 from Hamirpur.

There were 11 cases of Congress’ Sunder Singh, six of BJP’s Rakesh Jamwal, two of former Congress minister Ram Lal Thakur, and one each of Congress’ Sukhvinder Singh Sukhu, BJP’s Rajiv Bindal, Congress’ Dhani Ram Shandil, and BJP’s Vipin Parmar.

A majority of news items had been published in national and regional Hindi dailies.

During the 2019 Lok Sabha polls, there were three cases of “Paid News” and in the 2014 Lok Sabha elections, there were 20 cases, including 13 related to BJP’s Shanta Kumar, five of Congress’ Chander Kumar, and three of present union minister Anurag Singh Thakur.