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Election Commission issues strict guidelines to media for poll coverage

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NEW DELHI: The Election Commission, which recently announced polls for the Maharashtra and Haryana assemblies, said today that news broadcasters must not air any final, formal and definite results until such results are formally announced by the returning officer. The results must have been carried with a clear disclaimer that they are unofficial or incomplete or partial results or projections which should not be taken as final results.

The Commission, which issued detailed guidelines relating to the polls said these should be duly observed by all the concerned media.

It reiterated that the TV/radio channels and cable networks should ensure that the contents of the programme telecast/broadcast/displayed by them during the period of 48 hours referred to in Section 126 of the Representative of People’s Act 1951 do not contain any material, including views/appeals by panelists/participants that may be construed as promoting/prejudicing the prospect of any particular party or candidate(s) or influencing/affecting the result of the election. This shall, among other things include display of results of any opinion poll and of standard debates, analysis, visuals and sound-bytes

It said: “During the period not covered by Section 126 or Section 126A, concerned TV/Radio/Cable/FM channels are free to approach the state/district/local authorities for necessary permission for conducting any broadcast related events which must also conform to the provisions of the model code of conduct and the programme code laid down by the Ministry of Information and Broadcasting under the Cable Network (Regulation) Act with regard to decency, maintenance of communal harmony, etc. They are also required to stay within the provisions of Commission’s guidelines dated 27 August 2012 regarding paid news and related matters. Concerned Chief Electoral Officer/District Election Officer will take into account all relevant aspects including the law and order situation while extending such permission.”

During the elections, there are sometimes allegations of violation of the provisions of Section 126 of the Representation of the People Act 1951 by TV channels in the telecast of their panel discussions/debates and other news and current affairs programmes.

The Commission has clarified in the past that the Section 126 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 that 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.

Attention is also invited to Section 126A of the Act, which prohibits conduct of exit poll and dissemination of their results during the period mentioned therein, that is, from the hour fixed for commencement of polls and half hour after the time fixed for close of poll.

The Commission has drawn attention to the guidelines relating to coverage of elections issued separately for the print media by the Press Council of India and by the News Broadcasters Standards Authority.

Among others, attention has been drawn to the Guideline that the Press should refrain from publishing false or 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 elections. The Press shall not publish unverified allegations against any candidate/party.

News broadcasters must endeavour to avoid all forms of rumour, baseless speculation and disinformation, particularly when these concern specific political parties or candidates. Any candidate/political party, which has been defamed or is a victim of misrepresentation, misinformation or other similar injury by broadcast of information should be afforded prompt correction, and where appropriate granted an opportunity of reply.

News broadcasters are required to scrupulously maintain a distinction between news and paid content. All paid content should be clearly marked as ‘Paid Advertisement’ or ‘Paid Content’ and paid content must be carried in compliance with the ‘norms and guidelines on paid news' dated 24 November 2011.

The Election Commission will monitor the broadcasts made by news broadcasters from the time elections are announced until the conclusion and announcement of election results. Any violation by member broadcasters reported to the News Broadcasting Standards Authority (NBSA) by the Election Commission will be dealt with by the NBSA under its regulations.

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