In a fresh setback to Maharashtra's former chief minister Ashok Chavan, the Supreme Court dismissed his plea challenging the Election Commission’s jurisdiction to enquire into paid news
The Supreme Court on Monday said that the Election Commission has the jurisdiction and can enquire into complaints on paid news against a political leader if the expenditure incurred on it is not disclosed.
A bench headed by Justice AK Patnaik dismissed the plea of former Maharashtra Chief Minister Ashok Chavan challenging the Commission’s jurisdiction to enquire into such issues.
It also directed the Commission to enquire into the complaint against Chavan within 45 days.
The apex court passed the order on an appeal filed by Chavan challenging the Delhi High Court verdict, which had refused to grant any relief to Chavan on the issue of paid news. The apex court in 2011 had stayed a probe by EC into the authenticity of Chavan’s spendings during the 2009 state assembly polls allegedly involving expenses on “paid news”.
In the 2009 Assembly elections, Chavan had shown only Rs5,000 as his campaign expenditure whereas the Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP), which has lodged a case against him in the Commission, has been able to show that tens of crore were spent by him on paid news.
Paid news is the phenomenon where politicians pay newspapers and channels to run stories favourable to them. Basically, this is an advertisement that is camouflaged as news amounting to betrayal of the reader’s trust.
According to The Hindu, the Ashok Chavan case involves some of the top newspaper groups in the country who have vigorously denied charges of wrongdoing. The issue broke into print when three major newspapers carried exactly the same hagiographical story on Chavan — under different bylines. It also involved scores of full pages of “news” appearing in these and other publications singing Chavan’s praises while completely blacking out any mention of his rival in the Bhokar constituency of Nanded, Dr Madhav Kinhalkar. The publications defended these full pages as 'news'.
“Chavan’s poll expenditure account also stated that he had spent less than Rs7 lakh on his entire campaign and a mere Rs5,379 on newspaper advertisements, well below the expenditure limit. If his accounts are valid, then he managed to hold two rallies involving Bollywood superstar Salman Khan — and drawing tens of thousands of people — at a cost of less than Rs 4,500 each,” senior journalist P Sainath wrote in the report published in The Hindu.
The probe was launched by EC on complaints filed by Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) leaders Mukhtar Abbas Naqvi and Kirit Somaiyya.
The Press Council of India later released the report on Paid News (dated 30 July 2010) on its website, following the direction by the Delhi High Court. The report prepared under the chairmanship of Justice GR Ray (former head of the Press Council) has been placed in the public domain (more details at http://presscouncil.nic.in/HOME.HTM ).
Concerned over the serious dimensions acquired by the phenomenon of payment for news in the media in the General Elections 2009, the Council not only took cognizance of the matter suo moto, but also considered representations from various eminent persons. The report records that “Sections of the media in India have willy-nilly become participants and players in such practices that contribute to the growing use of money power in politics which undermines democratic processes and norms— while hypocritically pretending to occupy a high moral ground.”
After the ‘paid news' scandal surfaced, the Press Council under Justice GN Ray set up a subcommittee to inquire into the racket. The committee comprising Paranjoy Guha Thakurta, senior journalist, and Sreenivas Reddy, produced an explosive 71-page report which clearly mentioned the names (and details) of the personalities who were involved in this racket.
However, the recommendation of the Press Council report were withheld from the public until an RTI (Right to Information) Application from journalist Manu Moudgil forced Press Council to come out with all the relevant details by 10th October after an order from the Chief Information Commissioner (CIC).
Later in May 2013, in a major twist to the Ashok Chavan vs. Madhav Kinhalkar legal battle, leading civil society organisations and eminent individuals have approached the Supreme Court to implead themselves into the case. According to a report from The Hindu, the line-up of distinguished individuals included veteran journalist and editor BG Verghese, former Chief Election Commissioners of India (CEC) N Gopalaswami and JM Lyngdoh, and former adviser to the ECI, KJ Rao. Gopalaswami told P Sainath that, “The government had joined Chavan in challenging the Election Commission’s power to disqualify a candidate under Section 10A of the Act for his failure to submit a correct and true rendering of his election expenditure”.
This action followed the Union Law Ministry filing a counter-affidavit on behalf of the Government in the Ashok Chavan case. That affidavit, first reported by The Hindu on March 20, asserts that “the power of the Election Commission to disqualify a person arises only in the event of failure to lodge an account of expenses and not for any other reason, including the correctness or otherwise of such accounts.” Simply put: the government claims the ECI has no right to disqualify a candidate even if his accounts are found to be improper or fraudulent. If accepted, this would virtually gut the powers of that Constitutional body, senior journalist Sainath wrote in a report published by The Hindu.
NCP and National Conference, the two allies of UPA, as well as BJP have questioned the move to appoint a judge to head the snoopgate probe
Following stiff opposition from its allies, the United Progressive Alliance (UPA) government on Monday decided to drop its move to name a judge to head the Commission set up to probe the snooping on a young woman by Gujarat police allegedly at the instance of chief minister Narendra Modi.
“We have left the decision on appointing a judge to the next Government,” Government sources said a day after two UPA constituents Nationalist Congress Party (NCP) and National Conference openly opposed the move in the “dying days” of UPA-II.
A controversy had broken out last week when senior ministers – Kapil Sibal (Law) and Sushilkumar Shinde (Home) – told the media that a judge would be named into the surveillance, which was dubbed as ‘snoopgate’, before 16th May when the counting of votes in the Lok Sabha elections will be taken up.
The announcement came under severe attack from the BJP, which slammed the UPA saying it was practising vendetta out of desperation of defeat in the elections.
BJP questioned the move saying the original decision of the Cabinet was taken in December and they could not decide on a judge all these days.
The party also questioned the need for such a probe when the State government itself had ordered a commission of inquiry into the same subject.
However, what apparently took the Government by surprise was the opposition from its allies. Yesterday, NCP leader Praful Patel had said: “When the results of the Lok Sabha elections are due in two weeks’ time, where is the need for such an enquiry.”
Significantly, NCP chief Sharad Pawar had talked to Prime Minister Manmohan Singh yesterday to convey the party’s view in the matter. NCP is the second largest constituent of the Congress-led UPA.
Striking a similar note, National Conference leader and Jammu and Kashmir Chief Minister Omar Abdullah said if the decision to appoint a judge could not be taken in December, then it was wrong to appoint a judge five months later.
“Was talking to my dad last night and he felt the same way -- setting up a commission of inquiry in the dying hours of UPA 2 is just wrong.
“If the decision to appoint a commission was taken in December it should have been implemented. To appoint a judge 5 months later is wrong,” Omar tweeted.
It was alleged that illegal surveillance was carried out on a young woman architect in Gujarat in 2009 at the behest of Modi and Amit Shah, who was the Home Minister at that time.
Unfazed by the opposition from its two allies, Congress spokesperson and Mahila Congress chief Shoba Oza had said there was “no compromise” on going ahead with the probe as the matter does not involve any political party but women of the country who constitute half of the population.
One tweet and thousands of followers, that is the magic of Superstar Rajinikanth on Twitter
He came, he saw and his tweet spread like a wild fire. Well that is the story of one of India’s most influential and bankable movie stars, Rajinikanth, whose mass popularity and appeal is largely drawn from his mannerisms and stylized dialogue delivery.
Rajinikanth on Monday made his debut on Twitter with a handle @superstarrajini and with just one tweet, "Salutation to the Lord. Vanakkam anaivarukkum !! A big thank you to all my fans. Excited on this digital journey", is being followed by over 30,000 people and the numbers are increasing at phenomenal speed matched only by Rajini Sir!
"I decided to start with Twitter because I felt that the platform is abuzz with all the news and the trends that happen across the globe and I'm told that this is where all the best Rajini one liners are!” the super star said.
A cultural icon, the normally reticent superstar is looking forward to interacting with his fans on the platform. “I have always believed that my career graph is a miracle I owe my fans. I have been contemplating joining the social media platform for a while to connect with them, hear what they have to say and share my thoughts. Unfortunately I never got around to it until now. By partnering with Fluence I am confident that I have the best team and the best guides who will help me connect with my audience” said the Superstar.
CA Media Digital’s first venture, Fluence - Indian celebrity digital network, will be managing Rajinikanth’s digital interests, to further create and leverage the Thalaivar’s social presence.