Report No. 255
7.47. The recommendations pertain to three aspects: first, introducing definitions of paid news and political advertising; second, laying down the consequences attached to those indulging in such practices, and third, the institution that should exercise the powers of imposing such consequences.
7.48.1. Two definitions need to be introduced: 'paying for news' and 'political advertisement'.
'Paying for news'
7.48.2. A vast majority of surveyed suggestions have agreed with the definition of 'paid news' provided by the PCI Report, i.e. paid news is "any news or analysis appearing in any media (Print & Electronic) for a price in cash or kind as consideration."
7.48.3. While this definition strikes an optimal balance between wide coverage and particular targeting, we believe that four changes are necessary:
a. Since an offence is sought to be created, the definition should be modified such that it defines the transitive verb 'paying for news' rather than the adjective-noun 'paid news'.
b. It should be made clear that for the definition to be met, the payment is made to the media house by the person seeking publication or telecast of a particular piece of news or analysis relating to elections and not vice-versa. This is because media houses often pay opinion columnists, talk show guests and other occasional contributors, remuneration in cash or kind for sharing their opinions. Payments such as these should not be covered by the definition of 'paying for news'.
c. By way of abundant caution, advertisements that follow all disclosure requirements and other legal preconditions should be specifically excluded from this definition since they would not fall within the ambit of 'news or analysis'.
d. The offence should exclude official publications by registered or recognised political parties or any news or electronic media house owned by a political party and disclosed as such. This is because of two reasons: First, in such cases, political parties may themselves be funding the salaries of journalists working for these media publications and that is not the key target of the offence of paying for news;
Second, the key issue in such cases is disclosure as the public must have a right to know who the owners of the said publication are. To avail of this exclusion, political parties must themselves own the said media house. [This exclusion will appear in the section creating the substantive offence and not the definition section.]
7.48.4. Accordingly, a new Section 2(ea) should be introduced. Section 2(ea) will read as follows:
"(ea) "paying for news" means directly or indirectly paying for any news or analysis relating to any election under this Act appearing in electronic media or print media (print, radio, television and all other electronic) for a price in cash or kind as consideration to any such media, entity, person employed therein or connected thereto in any manner, but not including political advertisements as defined under this law;
Explanation.- For the purpose of this clause the expression "electronic media" and "print media" shall have the meanings assigned in clauses (b) and (c) of section 126(a);"
7.48.5. At the same time, an analogous definition should be introduced for 'receiving payment for news'. Thus a new section, Section 2(ha) should be introduced, which will read as follows:
"2(ha). "receiving payment for news" means any media entity, person employed therein or connected thereto in any manner, directly or indirectly receiving payment for any news or analysis relating to any election under this Act, not including political advertisements as defined under this Act."
7.48.6. Given that the constitutional rationale of prohibiting paid news is to preserve the right to know of electors, it is pursuant to the same rationale that political advertisements should be regulated. The purpose of such regulation is so that political advertisements are clearly understood as paid-for publications and cannot successfully be disguised as objective, accurate news.
Such advertisement should not qualify as 'paid news' as long as it is properly disclosed as a political advertisement. To this end, what counts as a 'political advertisement' must be defined. The general definition of 'advertisement' is found in the Code of Self-Regulation for Advertising published by the Advertising Standards Council of India.317 This needs to be built upon in the context of political advertisements.
317. 'Advertisement' is defined as 'a paid-for communication, addressed to the public or a section of it, the purpose of which is to influence the opinions or behaviour of those to whom it is addressed...'
7.48.7. Thus, a new section 2(eb) will be introduced which will read as follows:
"2(eb). "political advertisement" means any advertisement paid for by any political party, candidate of a political party, any other person contesting an election, or any other person connected therewith or associated thereto, carrying necessary disclosures as notified by the Election Commission in this regard."