EC issues guidelines for Media coverage in the upcoming assembly elections

The Election Commission has issued an advisory on news coverage of the upcoming 2018 state Assembly polls in Chhattisgarh, Madhya Pradesh, Rajasthan, Mizoram, and Telangana. The guideline prohibits the display of any election matter on any media platform 48 hours before the conclusion of a poll in any constituency.

Section 126 of the Representation of the People Act, 1951, deals with the guidelines of the conduct of media during elections. It prohibits displaying any “election matter” by means, inter alia, of television or similar apparatus, during the period of 48 hours ending with the hour fixed for conclusion of poll in a constituency. “Election matter” has been defined in the Section as “any matter intended or calculated to influence or affect the result of an election”. Violation of the aforesaid provisions of Section 126 is punishable with imprisonment up to a period of two years, or with fine or both.

The guidelines are as follows:

Prohibition of public meetings during the period of forty-eight hours ending with hour fixed for conclusion of the poll (1) No person shall–

(a) convene, hold, attend, join or address any public meeting or procession in connection with an election; or
(b) display to the public any election matter by means of cinematograph, television or other similar apparatus; or
(c) propagate any election matter to the public by holding, or by arranging the holding of, any musical concert or any theatrical performance or any other entertainment or amusement with a view to attracting the members of the public thereto,

in any polling area during the period of forty-eight hours ending with the hour fixed for the conclusion of the poll for any election in that polling area.

(2) Any person who contravenes the provisions of sub-section (1) shall be punishable with imprisonment for a term which may extend to two years or with fine, or with both.

(3) In this section, the expression ‘‘election matter’’ means any matter intended or calculated to influence or affect the result of an election.

The EC has also prohibited  “conducting Exit poll and broadcasting their results during the period of the commencement of polls in first Phase and half an hour after the close of poll in last phase in all the State, in respect of current round of elections.”

Earlier this year Election Commission had constituted a committee headed by deputy election commissioner Umesh Sinha to suggest changes to Section 126 of the Representation of the People (RP) Act. It was also asked to study the impact of new media and social media during the “silence period” especially in multi-phase polls and its implication in view of Section 126 and suggest changes to the model code of conduct (MCC) accordingly.

This committee was constituted in the wake of the emergence of new media and social media which is now widely being used as a tool of a political campaign. Former Election Commissioner HS Brahma had said, “When the RP Act was drafted in 1951, no one imagined the present-day communication systems. So there is a need to revisit the section and make amendments. The EC needs to be clear on what they want so that they can get the political parties to adhere to the new code”.

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