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Written By: Shajeeda Tajdeen
Advocate Ashwini Kumar Upadhyay, who is also a BJP leader has filed a petition before the Apex Court which demands that publication of ‘paid news’ should be declared as a ‘corrupt practice’ under the Representation of Peoples Act, 1951. The petition also seeks for implementing the recommendations made by the Election Commission of India (ECI), Press Council of India (PCI), and the Law Commission of India (LCI) on the same.
The Petition further refers to the LCI’s 255th report on ‘Electoral Reforms’, which states that even though there are guidelines which clearly separates advertisement and news content, they are hardly taken into consideration as they are either overthrown or no heed is paid to them. The report further proposed that the definitions of terms such as ‘paying for news’, ‘receiving payment for news’, and ‘political advertisement’ etc. should be inserted in Section 2, of the Representation of Peoples Act, 1951, so as to give a specific and clear meaning to the terms with a view to remove the ambiguity surrounded if any.
The report also recommended that ‘paying for news/receiving payment for news’ should be declared as an electoral offense and such an activity should be disqualified by and under the Act. In addition to the above provision, the report also suggested that a uniform disclosure provision for all genres or types of media should be made applicable in order to put an end to corrupt practices of political advertisement in a disguised manner.
The petition further supports the recommendations made by the ECI and PCI. It points out that on one hand ECI recommends to prohibit the publication of the advertisement by political parties for a period of 48 hours till the conclusion of the poll, and on the other hand PCI suggested to make paid news a corrupt practice altogether.
The petition then points out the loopholes in these recommendations and provision, it states 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.”
The petition also focuses on the aftermath of such activities on the citizens, it states that black money and other financial malpractices which are related to black money are all an integral part of the paid news and political advertisement.
Hence, the petition focuses to save the trust and confidence imposed in the electoral system by declaring such unethical and immoral practices as corrupt practices which are punishable under the Act. Lastly, the petition states that it is the responsibility and duty of the Executive along with the Election Commission of India to take immediate and strict steps to curb such activities and the Constitution also by virtue of Article 324 empowers the Executive as well the ECI to take necessary steps in this regard.
Lastly, it should be noted that ‘the strength of a democracy lies in its true and fair electoral system’.