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Media Rights During Polling Day in India

Posted by Manoj Vats on February 16, 2015 | Comment

Media houses and journalists contribute towards the participation of voters in democratic debate, particularly by guaranteeing that issues of public interest come to the fore. As guardians of democracy, journalists play a key role in guaranteeing the legitimacy and therefore the acceptance of election results, particularly in countries witnessing a transition to democracy or rising from political crisis. To carry out their task, journalists must have rights. They even have responsibilities. The right to provide information, without being pressured or threatened, brings with it the duty to provide voters with factually correct information. This is complex work, with challenges to overcome and pitfalls to avoid. There had been instances wherein journalists side-tracked from their mission as neutral and impartial information providers, and adopted partisan outlook. 

Media Rights During Polling Day in India

Rights of Media in India

Journalists are protected by rights guaranteed in Article 19 of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights of 1948 and in the Article 19 of the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights of 1966, signed and ratified by 154 countries. During an election period, a journalist has the right to talk with all political parties and their candidates. This power extends to parties and politicians who powerfully oppose the government. and applies to all campaign issues that the journalists consider vital for voters and the future of the country. The 1966 Covenant acknowledges that each individual enjoys freedom of expression. Thus, the right to free expression throughout political campaigns must be guaranteed to all parties and candidates, as well as to voters. 

The strength and importance of media in a democracy is well recognized. The Article 19(1)(a) of the Constitution of India, which provides freedom of speech and expression, also includes freedom of press. The existence of a free media is the cornerstone of a democracy, particularly when it comes to a pluralistic society like India. Media not only disseminate feelings, opinions and views, but they are also accountable and instrumental in building opinions and views on varied topics of regional, national and international agenda. 

Polling Day  

On the polling day, the role of the media changes from what it had been throughout the election campaign period. Specific rules have been formulated to control this shift.

In India, the Election Commission of India is broadly regarded as a model of an independent Electoral Management Body, which is the Election Commission of India (ECI) consisting of three members such as the chief election commissioner (CEC), two election commissioners (EC) and the deputy election commissioner. The ECI can hold press conferences on the polling day, at the opening and closing of polling, and at other times depending on the need.

There may be incidents that require experienced journalists to report on them. Violence at polling booths, logistic issues and allegations of electoral fraud could be such incidents. To maintain its reputation and prevent escalation of problems, it is important that the Election Commission responds to these issues at the earliest to reassure the public about measures taken. It might also issue statements from ECI officials aimed at encouraging people to vote and restore confidence in the process. A media relations department may post regular updates on the ECI website to allow current info on the progress of the polls.  

Media Relations employees consistently communicate with polling booths across the country as well as media. They may even visit polling booths to observe whether media persons are respecting laws and getting an opportunity to interview ECI staff if the poll panel’s laws do not allow voting staff to talk to media. 

Election Commission’s Media Policy 

The ECI follows a comprehensive policy for the media houses. The election commissioners hold usual briefings for the print and electronic media on a daily basis and at frequent intervals throughout the election day. The representatives of the media are also provided facilities to report on actual conduct and counting of votes. On the basis of authority letters issued by the EC, the representatives are allowed entry into polling booth and counting centres. The library of the ECI is offered to members of the educational fraternity, media representatives and anybody else interested in doing analysis and an in-depth study. In the recent past, the EC has taken a slew of new initiatives, including a scheme to use state-owned electronic media for broadcasting or telecasting views and opinions of the political parties.