New Delhi: The government will come up with methods to check paid news, including “excessive advertising", information and broadcasting minister Arun Jaitley said on Monday.

“Gone are the days when we could have excessive censorship. Paid news can’t get free press protection. We are entering a new phase where India will have to address a question as to when excessive advertising acquires a proportion of political bribery," said Jaitley while speaking to journalists at the Indian Women’s Press Corp (IWPC) in New Delhi.

Earlier this month, the issue of “paid news" was raised in the Rajya Sabha where Jaitley suggested a structured debate on the topic. “Advertising is the right of everyone. But when the government starts excessive advertising, where is the dividing line between excessive advertisement and bribery. On one hand, there would be a danger of control or governmental interference, which is something we want to avoid and on the other hand, we want to end this aberration," he had said in the Upper House.

While interacting with journalists, Jaitley said people have the right to choose where to advertise, how much to advertise and, therefore, they indulge in excessive advertising in order to impact the quality of reportage. “We are confronted with the question whether excessive advertising evolves into political bribery. It is the first time our country is addressing this issue," Jaitley added.

Paid news is the practice where advertising or promotion masquerades as news. During elections, the practice picks up as political candidates prefer to promote themselves through advertisements disguised as news articles, partly to game the Election Commission’s rules on spending, and also because news is generally considered more credible than advertising.

On 2 May, The Hindustan Times reported that the National Democratic Alliance (NDA) government was pushing for paid news to become an electoral offence for candidates.

In an affidavit filed in the Supreme Court, the government said that “a proposal to amend the Representation of People Act, 1951 in its entirety is under consideration with the government of India, in which a provision has been proposed for making paid news an electoral offence."

The government was also considering a proposal to punish media outlets found guilty of publishing paid news by suspending their publication for 45 to 90 days, the report added.

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