'Paid news' claims first political scalp as EC disqualifies MLA
The Election Commission delivered a historic verdict on Thursday by disqualifying Uttar Pradesh MLA Umlesh Yadav from contesting again for three years for not including in her official accounts of expenditure the amount she spent on advertisements in two Hindi dailies that were masquerading as news items.
Umlesh Yadav is the wife of liquor baron and billionaire strongman D.P. Yadav and mother of Vikas Yadav, the convicted murderer of Nitish Kataria. She was elected from Bisauli in 2007 on the ticket of the Rashtriya Parivartan Dal.
The EC — Chief Election Commissioner S.Y. Quraishi and Election Commissioners V.S. Sampath and H.S. Brahma — disqualified Ms. Yadav from contesting any election for Parliament or the State legislatures or Councils for three years, under Section 10A of the Representation of the People Act, 1951, for suppressing expenditure of Rs. 21,250 (the amount spent for issuing the advertisements) in her election accounts. The ban will take effect from October 20, 2011.
Apart from being the first political victim of the paid news phenomenon, Ms. Yadav is also the first sitting legislator to be disqualified for excessive expenditure.The EC officials who went through four volumes of judgments told The Hindu that while a lot of losing candidates have been disqualified in the past, never before has the Commission thrown the book at an MP or MLA during his or her term.
As a result of their verdict, EC officials told The Hindu, the Bisauli seat stands vacated. Ms. Yadav can no longer function as an MLA for the four months that remain of her term and she cannot contest an election again for three years.
The EC rejected her contention that she did not authorise or incur the expenditure for the publication of the advertisement or paid news, and, quoting the various verdicts of the Supreme Court, maintained that it ought to have been included in her election expenditure under Section 78 of the Representation of the People Act.
The Commission heard the case following a reference made by the Press Council of India (PCI) on March 31, 2010, after going through a complaint against Amar Ujala and Dainik Jagran for publishing "paid news" in favour of Ms. Yadav during the last U.P. Assembly elections
The PCI, in its order, held the two newspapers guilty of ethical violations. It cautioned the media to refrain from publishing advertisements masquerading as news and decided that its adjudication along with all the case papers be sent to the Election Commission of India "for such action as deemed fit by them."
According to the EC, the PCI had then observed: "The format of the impugned material was such that it would appear as a news report to the layman and the word ADVT printed at the lowest end rather appeared to accompany a small boxed appeal by the candidate. There was beyond doubt a possibility of confusing the voters when the elections were just a day away and all campaigning had stopped. The act was not only unethical by journalistic standards but also in violation of the election laws."
Asked for his reaction, Chief Election Commissioner said he hoped this first disqualification would help put an end to candidates resorting to "paid news" in the days to come.
In the EC pipeline next are the cases against former Maharashtra Chief Minister and MLA from Bhokar Ashok Chavan and former Jharkhand Chief Minister and Singhbhum MP Madhu Koda.
The Commission has already fixed November 4 as the date for hearing the complaint against Mr. Chavan. The BJP has alleged that he encouraged "paid news" and did not show, in his election expenditure, the money spent for getting publicity.
Mr. Koda is facing a similar charge: that he did not submit proper election expenditure accounts in the 2009 Lok Sabha poll and used "paid news." His case is due to come up before the Commission on Friday.