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Report No. 255

B. Paid News and Political Advertising: Defining The Phenomena

7.8. Political advertising is constituted by activities, which relate to promoting an electoral candidate or a political party or a policy proposed by a particular party, in order to appeal to the public. At its core, political advertising does not exclusively relate to elections, political parties or candidates. Advertising on other issues, which reflect important societal debates, such as human rights, environmental issues, welfare schemes etc., and is generally in the nature of political propaganda or pursues political ends, may be construed as political advertising.236

236. EPRA Secretariat, Plenary Political Advertising: Case Studies and Monitoring, EPRA/2006/02, 17-19 May 2006

7.9. Legitimate political advertisements indicate the identity of the sender or the speaker of the communication. This confirms that the communicated piece is an advertisement. Such speech is not sought to be constrained excessively since it promotes political ideas and reflects the ideologies and policy goals of a party, while ensuring that the viewers are aware that the content is not merely informational but also promotional. Under the Indian Constitution, speech of this kind is admittedly within the protection of Article 19(1)(a) of the Constitution. Tata Press v. MTNL, AIR 1995 SC 2438.

7.10. On the other hand, there is no categorical legal definition of paid news. Paid news has been defined by the Sub-committee of the Press Council of India (hereinafter "PCI report") as "any news or analysis appearing in any media (Print & Electronic) for a price in cash or kind as consideration." The definition given by PCI report was also adopted by the 47th report of Standing Committee on Information and Technology of the Ministry of Information and Broadcasting (hereinafter "SCIT report").

The ECI Handbook distinguishes between paid news and paid content and suggests that the latter must be unambiguously marked as 'paid advertisement'. Therefore, political advertisement will be one which is not presented in the garb of news or editorial content, but is clearly discernible as an advertisement.

7.11. Paid News therefore, is a promotional feature in the guise of an informative and meritorious piece of news. Further, paid news is communicated as any regular news content which is based on the labour invested in news finding and the merit of the author/speaker.

7.12. This demarcation between paid news and political advertising is significant. News reporting is supposed to be objective and neutral. Print and electronic media controls information dissemination which also affects the voters' decision. It is very important that the neutrality of the news object is not distorted by monetary considerations.

Therefore, it is crucial that the distinction between advertisement and news is easily discernible to the reader. If paid content is presented as news, it harms the election structure at multiple levels. Apart from the deception of voters, the funds paid by candidates for paid news also help them hide the expenditure incurred by them, unlike in advertising, which can be publicly scrutinised.

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