Election Commission sleeping on paid news cases?

New Delhi (IANS): Four months after the Election Commission said 694 confirmed cases of paid news were detected in the general election, it is yet to send a formal intimation to the Press Council of India (PCI).

A PCI official said they were unable to serve show cause notices to the erring media outlets in the absence of an EC statement.

“We’re aware that nearly 700 cases of paid news took place during the Lok Sabha polls. But we cannot act on the basis of media reports. We normally wait for a statement from the Election Commission which we have not got,” Punam Sibal, deputy secretary of PCI, told IANS.

After a long wait, the PCI last week issued a reminder to the EC, contending that it was unable to move in the matter as a formal statement carrying details of the paid news incidents was yet to reach it.

Sibbal said the EC was yet to respond.

By the time the 10 phases of Lok Sabha polls ended, thousands of cases of paid news were reported.

On May 12, after the last leg of the polls, EC director general Akshay Rout said 3,053 cases notices were issued on suspicion of foul play.

“We served 3,053 notices, 694 of which were found to be genuine cases of paid news,” Rout had said.

In some cases, the PCI constitutes its own committees to detect paid news and initiate action. But since the current term of the PCI expired in June, that option was not available, officials said.

The government is yet to constitute a new edition of PCI – adding to the delay in handling paid news cases.

“Notification for reconstitution of PCI is awaited due to procedural delays on the part of the information and broadcasting ministry,” Sibal told IANS.

She said the PCI has made a list of 20 of the 28 members from three different categories of media owners, editors and working journalists.

“We need three members from the Lok Sabha, two from the Rajya Sabha and one each from the Bar Council, University Grants Commission and Sahitya Akademi,” she said.

The delay in reconstitution of the self-regulatory body is due to the fact that the three members from the Lok Sabha had not been notified till as late as last week, she added.

A senior Election Commission official said that all cases of paid news were from states and there were being verified.

“The candidates (involved in giving money for publishing or broadcasting favourable news) have a right to appeal. So there is a delay,” another official told IANS requesting anonymity.

He said the final appeal lies with the EC.

Asked when the EC was likely to intimate the PCI about paid news cases, he said: “No tentative date can be given.”