Regulations to be enforced for paid news in Indian social media

Public Affairs practitioners in India need to be wary after it is announced that the Election Commission of India (ECI) is planning to crack down on paid news within social media during Indian elections.

Any paid for news that is published on a website that seems to be favouring a particular candidate will be reported to the Press Council of India.

There are currently no laws on paid news within India, however there are a number of legislations including the IT Act and the Representation of the People’s Act that can be used to regulate paid for news in print, electronic and social media.

However, the definition of paid news is causing confusion in India. The current classification as stated by the Press Council of India is: “advertisements camouflaged as news, denial of coverage to select electoral candidates, exchanging of advertisement space for equity stakes between media houses and corporate and the rise in paid content as manifestations of paid news.”

So, with this in mind, I wonder what implication this could have for public relations in India. It will be interesting to see whether the legislations will relate to only paid for tweets or adverts on Facebook. Or, whether even celebrity endorsements will be monitored.

The director General of ECI, Akshay Rout, explained that the District Returning Officers (DROs) would keep a tab on paid news and advertisements during the election through Media Certification and Monitoring Committees.

If anyone is found to be involved in the paying for positive news, the value of the ad will be calculated and added onto the expenditure of the candidate. Media houses, if found and reported are able to appeal.

With political parties such as the BJP and even the Congress running aggressive social media campaigns, the move by the Election Commission to keep an eye on social media and paid news is sweeping. In the last year little known groups have popped up on sites like Twitter that troll and harangue opposing parties via hashtags. But it remains to be seen what exactly comes under paid news and social media. Except some interesting times ahead for the full blown political social media wars.