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An eye on news: Paid news cell detects 46 cases in a fortnight

The Media Certification & Monitoring Committee is tracking close to 350 assembly candidates in every news item of the district

The paid news cell set up by the Pune district election office has had a busy time, keeping an eye on every news item in the district. In the last two weeks, the cell has managed to detect as many as 46 cases of paid news. Rather than waiting for a formal complaint, the cell has sent notices to the concerned candidates.

senior journalists
The committee of senior journalists and district information officer meets the cell every alternate day to go through the news clippings gathered by the paid news cell

For the 21 constituencies of the district, there are nearly 350 candidates contesting in the upcoming assembly elections. Therefore, keeping a close eye on every news item published in dailies and periodicals is a challenging task. The returning officers (RO) of every constituency have received clear instructions to look out for any form of paid news in publications, especially district editions that are not available in the city.

“Through the RO of the concerned constituency, we issue notice to candidates, who we prima facie find to be involved in publishing paid news to woo voters, and seek their clarification. According to the guidelines set by the election commission (EC), the candidate has to tender his or her clarification within 48 hours of receiving the notice,” said Vijaya Pangarkar, nodal officer of the cell.

The district-level committee comprises of senior journalists and district information officer (DIO). The committee members sit with the cell every alternate day to go through news clippings gathered.

“I find this work quite interesting. My day starts with a detailed study of almost 40 newspapers. We pinpoint dailies where we find similar headlines and content about a particular party or candidate. We zero-in on any news that has been given special treatment,” said SP Chate, an extension officer in Zilla Parishad, who is currently a part of the paid news cell.

BJP's candidate was first culprit

Baburao Pacharne, BJP’s candidate for Shirur was caught by the cell last week after the constituency’s RO issued a notice about a half-page article that appeared in a local weekly, Samvad Vahini. “When we sent the notice, Pacharne admitted that it was an advertorial, costing around R25,000. He has now added the figure in his election expenses,” said Pangarkar.

Guidelines of EC
According to the guidelines set by the poll body, the news dailies and publications are divided into three categories – A, B and C – based on their circulation figures. If the charges of paid news are confirmed, then as per the category of the publication, the cell instructs the candidate to show the appeared editorial content as an advertorial and include it in his or her election expenses. Pangarkar stated that the cell’s work is only confined to candidates and it has not issued any notices to media houses involved.

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