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Election Commission wants ban on opinion polls: Quraishi

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NEW DELHI: The Election Commission is in favour of banning opinion polls in media.

Chief Election Commissioner S Y Quraishi said that the Election Commission would like to press for the ban as the Exit Polls could be as misleading.

He refuted charges that a ban on opinion polls amounted to an attack on the freedom of expression. It was equally erroneous to say that Article 19 (1) (a) did not apply to social media.

Releasing the book ‘Media Ethics: Truth, Fairness and Objectivity – Making and Breaking News’ by noted media commentator Paranjoy Guha Thakurta, he said the recent elections threw up 112 cases of paid news in Uttar Pradesh.

Speaking on the occasion, ‘Outlook’ Editor Vinod Mehta said it was natural for mediapersons and editors to be opinionated or have prejudices and biases. However, these should not reflect in news and should be voiced only in editorial comment.

He said media in India was facing its most major credibility crisis since 1975 when the National Emergency had been imposed.

But media should realise that it is not a player on the national scene: it merely has the best ringside seats to watch, report and comment.

He felt that demands for self-regulation were a hoax since experience had shown that even editors seldom wanted to come forward to make clean confessions of mistakes made. The editor being the custodian of a publication has to be above board. There was imperative need for a Code of Conduct.

Rajdeep Sardesai of CNN-IBN said it was interesting that the media was facing a vigorous credibility crisis at a time when it was the most powerful but commanded the least respect – unlike the early years of Independent India when the media was not so powerful but commanded respect.

Agreeing that television news channels had become entertainment, he said that the primary external threat to the media was the business model where the editor had to bow to the proprietor or the marketing people. He also said the carriage fee demanded from TV channels - which he claimed was like underhand payment – was also a major problem.

The primary revenue of TV was from advertisements and not subscriptions since the people were unwilling to pay. He said it was natural, therefore, that channels resorted to telecasting programming like that of Nirmal Baba, who paid for his time. He hoped the situation would change after digitisation.

The internal threats were sensationalism instead of sense and jingoism instead of journalism, since competition had taken away the ‘moral compass’.

He was happy that the self-regulatory bodies of the news and general entertainment channels were ‘naming and shaming’ the culprits in the eyes of their peers, since that would bring a semblance of sanity.

Thakurta regretted that the Press Council of India was toothless and the scant respect given by the Government to the recent report on Paid News was an example of this. He also wondered why private radio was not being permitted to telecast news.

Mazhar Khan of the Oxford University Press which has published the revised and enlarged edition of the book noted that OUP had completed one hundred years in India.

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