Several political parties are pushing for an amendment to the Representation of the People Act to declare “paid news” as an electoral malpractice. This issue of paid news came up in big way in the recent Lok Sabha elections, and in Maharashtra assembly elections, where some prominent candidates had identical news coverage in different papers, masquerading as reports.
“Paid news” during elections is a regular feature of the representative democratic system we have today. Political parties pay money to media owners, editors and journalists to plant news in daily papers to promote the interest of their candidates. This is a way to circumvent ceiling on election expenses. And a smart way too, since it also enriches the media barons and further cements the big political party-media nexus. This is one more example of the domination of money power where political parties representing the big business houses, industrialists, and monopolies buy votes through massive propaganda in newspapers, television and outdoor media. The Electoral Commission does nothing to prevent this splurge of unaccounted money by political parties to capture power. Spokespersons of big political parties such as Congress and BJP have expressed “shock” at this practice. But this is no shock to the voters, and to the smaller parties and independent candidates who simply don’t have the resources to buy media time. Let’s call a spade a spade. While the issue of paid news is a more grotesque form of our democracy, it is a fact that big media and the capitalists and the parties of big business, all represent the same interests. There is no such thing as “objective reporting”, even though claims are made to the contrary. The overriding interests are the interests of maximum profits of the channel or newspaper involved, and the overall interests of the capitalist class. In the recent Lok Sabha elections, the total silence about smaller parties and independent candidates in the media was killing. It was as if the entire big media actively colluded to keep out any sane voices, any people’s initiative from spreading. A host of suggestions have been voiced, from developing disclosure norms for paid content to “moral pressure” to regulate the media! As usual the big political parties want to brush away this embarrassment for Indian democracy under the carpet with some nincompoop measures. Representative democracy, by its very nature, thrives on money and muscle power. It works to keep the vast majority of the people as mere vote banks and marginalized from political power. Issues such as “paid news” are not aberrations but a part of the system. Laws to restrict paid news, if at all passed, will not touch the real issue. What we need is a complete overhaul of this system and the setting up of a system of direct democracy where people play a direct role in the political process. How to change this is the issue, not to cover it up with sophistry!