IMPHAL, January 4: The media fraternity in the state called for certain relaxations in the Election Commission of India’s strictures against the media in the runup to the state Assembly elections scheduled for January 28.
This opinion was expressed during a one day media workshop on ‘Paid News and voters’ education with the overall goal of holistic and positive media engagement in elections was held today at the Manipur Press Club.
The ECI had placed strict guidelines on what it deemed as paid news and advertisements by political parties and candidates.
These include paid news and advertisements at the cost of public exchequer canvassing for the ruling party and candidates.
It also forbade the media to become part of any campaign for or against any party.
It further put strictures unsubstantiated slanders against any political party or candidates.
The workshop organized jointly by the state election department and the All Manipur Working Journalist Union was also attended by media persons of the state.
During the workshop the officials of the state election office and the media persons deliberated on issue of paid news and advertisement.
While the state official explained to the media fraternity on the guidelines of the Election Commission of India regarding paid news and advertisement; the media fraternity sought clarification on what exactly would constitute paid news and advertisements in certain specific situations.
AMWJU general secretary Surjeshore initiated the workshop with the announcement of the main agenda to be deliberated during the said workshop.
AMWJU president A Mobi, editor ISTV Yumnam Rupachandra, editor Poknapham A Robindro Sharma and Sangai Express editor (English) Hijam Rajesh represented the media fraternity on the presidium dais while , chairman media certification and monitoring committee, A Tombikanta Singh represented the state election office.
The media representatives while initiating the interaction sought official clarifications from the state representative on areas which are still unclear.
Citing examples they asked whether the news of a village declaring support to a candidate be considered as the media taking part in the electino campaign.
A Mobi, while explaining the issue of paid news informed that, in the past, certain companies had introduced the ‘paid news’ with the main objective to launched their new products; however of recent the paid news problem has seeped into the political scene and the political parties had started using it as a weapon, which has adversely affected the election process.
Following the negative use of media institutions as a weapon by certain political parties, the Election Commission of India has promulgated certain restrictions on biased media coverage of any political parties or candidates to promote free and fair election in the country.
While lauding the steps taken up by the ECI on the issue, he further added that there are certain complicacies and difficulties while adhering to the said guidelines in the state. He expressed that there is a need for some rectifications in the said ECI guidelines before it is placed in the state considering the fact that the local environment is different from the national environment.
While citing their observations, the media fraternity urged the concern Media Certification and Monitoring Committee to reconsider some of the harsh penal provisions for media houses according to the local circumstances.
Meanwhile, after hearing the observations of the media team, A Tombikanta urged the media institutions to adhere to the ECI guidelines.
Further deliberating on the guidelines of the ECI regarding ‘paid news and advertisement’, he stated that the commission has noticed two significant gaps in the functioning of media during elections; the pernicious practice of “paid news”, and lack of voluntary support for Voters` Education and awareness for achieving higher participation.
He further informed that the commission has also come across complaints of biased media coverage for or against for certain political parties/candidates and for blacking out of due coverage of their political activities on consideration, other than professional.
He has stated that the commission has directed that “It will be the duty of the press to give objective reports about elections and the candidates. The newspapers are not expected to indulge in unhealthy election campaigns, exaggerated reports about any candidate/party or incident during the elections. In practice, two or three closely contesting candidates attract all the media attention. While reporting on actual campaign, a newspaper may not leave out any important point raised by a candidate and make an attack on his or her opponent.”
“Election Campaign along communal or caste lines is banned under the election rules. Hence, the Press should eschew reports which tend to promote feelings of enmity or hatred between people on the ground of religion, race, caste, community, or language”.
“The Press should refrain from publishing false of critical statements in regard to the personal character and conduct of any candidate or in relation to the candidature or withdrawal of any candidate or his candidature, to prejudice the prospects of that candidate in the election. The Press shall not publish verified allegations against anticandidate/party”.
“The Press shall not accept any kind of inducement, financial or otherwise, to project a candidate/party. It shall not accept hospitality or other facilities offered to them by or on behalf of any candidate/party”, he added.
Further according to the ECI guidelines “The Press is not expected to indulge in canvassing of a particular candidate/party. If it does, it shall allow the right of reply to the other candidate/party”.
“The Press shall not accept/publish any advertisement at the cost of public exchequer regarding achievements of a party/government in power”.
“The Press shall observe all the directions/orders/instructions of the Election Commission/Returning officers or Chief Electoral Officer issued from time to time”.
The meeting was attended by around 150 media persons including field reporters and managers of media firms of the state.