Members of the inquiry committee set up by the Press Council to examine the dangerous trend of 'paid news' met Maharashtra Chief Minister Ashok Chavan, who has received a notice from the Election Commission, after complaints that he allegedly paid newspapers to publish stories in his favour before the state assembly polls.
"We met the chief minister at his official residence 'Varsha' on Thursday and recorded his statement on the issue. He denied that he or his associates paid money to newspapers to publish complimentary articles," said Paranjoy Guha Thakurta, a member of the two-member inquiry committee.
"Council Chairman Justice G N Ray had sent a letter to the chief minister, seeking his time and views on the whole paid news issue," he said. Chavan denied having paid money to newspapers.
"We told him this is what senior journalist P Sainath has written. We asked him a lot of questions based on the allegations of paid news. We recorded his statement on a tape recorder," he said.
Chavan told the panel that the "appropriate forum to respond to the allegations is the court of law where poll petitions are heard".
"He told us he has received a letter from the Election Commission and that he would be responding to it soon," said Guha Thakurta.
Worried over the paid-news syndrome in the media in the run-up to the elections, the EC had served a notice to Chavan last week, following a complaint from the Bharatiya Janata Party.
"We have asked the chief minister to explain. The letter is returnable on February one," Chief Election Commissioner Navin Chawla had said.
The BJP's complaint was based on an article written by P Sainath in the daily The Hindu, which claimed that Chavan got some 'news stories' published word-by-word in his favour in three different dailies. Nowhere did the word advertisement figure alongside these stories, the report said.
A controversy has erupted over Chavan's expenses on putting out advertisements in the media during his election campaign, with the chief minister claiming he only spent approximately Rs 11,000 on paid advertisements.
The BJP has rubbished the claim, saying Chavan received coverage worth much more in newspapers, with advertisements in the form of news, which he allegedly paid for.