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Examining The Role of Media in Elections

Media has an important role in the democratic process. It provides valuable information to the governed public and citizens with relation to the entire electoral process.
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Media has an important role in the democratic process. It provides valuable information to the governed public and citizens with relation to the entire electoral process. In the last few years there has been a tremendous growth of media in the country both-print and electronic, but it has been rather spectacular in the latter. Consequent upon large scale proliferation of the electronic media, its coverage of the electoral process has assumed greater significance.

Each country has its peculiar mix requiring attention. In India, the oral tradition is strong and among a relatively large unlettered population, the power of moving images speaking directly to the viewer cannot be matched by the print media.

Cable Television Network

The Cable Television Network (Regulation) Rules, 1994, prohibit advertisements of political nature. This issue was raised before the Andhra Pradesh High Court, which suspended the operation of Rule 7(3) of the Cable Television Network (Regulation) Rules, 1994, relating to prohibition of advertisements of political nature. The matter went to the Supreme Court and the Apex Court, but its order dated 13.4.2004, modified the High Court's order and directed the Commission to monitor the advertisements on television and cable networks during the recent general elections and for future election, the issue needs to be settled. The Commission proposed that the Government may consider amending the relevant provisions of the Cable Television Network (Regulation) Rule, 1994 to provide for suitable advertisement code and monitoring mechanism.'

Conduct of poll surveys

Various agencies conducts poll surveys prior to the poll on the likely voting pattern called 'Opinion Poll' and publish and disseminate the results of such survey through different media. Similarly, on the date of poll, actual. result of the election is sought to be predicted on the basis of information collected from the voters. Results of such surveys, called 'Exit Poll', are published and disseminated after the poll is over.2

Corridors of Powers

Yogendra Yadav, a popular face on television during elections, whose transition from a star psephologist to a social worker, happened following the disastrous performance of political scientists in the 2004 Lok Sabha elections feels that the media should be more alive to the problems of the common IlJan and question those in the corridors of powers'

Disconnect of news media

In this regard, five observations are worth making. First, the disconnect of news media specially the metro media with the main-stream India about the various divides in the country; second, the blatant bandwagoning tendency; third, inadequacies of poll surveys and the misleading use of them by the news media and the political parties; fourth, as if all that because of a "jugalbandhi Phenomenon", a week to week analysis of the coverage in the news media bring out certain gang up between key players as if it was a Jugalbandhi; fifth, the politicians' pampering of the media and the media doing so of political bosses. There is ambiguity on the all four core aspects of psephological exercise independence, objectivity, representative ness and. in the vary transparency of the exercise.

6. Electronic media

The Election Commission organized, in March 1996, a meeting with representatives of the electronic media including the State owned electronic media and evolved a set of guidelines for this purpose.

They were in the nature of a code of conduct for television broadcast in connection with elections. These stipulated that the coverage should be free and fair and not biased in favour of any particular party and candidate. These indicated that-
1. There should be no coverage of any speeches or other material that incites violence.
2. In any constituency, one candidate alone should not be projected.

While it is not necessary to cover every single candidate, at least the more important should be covered in any report from constituency.

The 2004 elections have brought out the inadequacies of poll survey and the misleading use of them by the news media as well as political parties. This issue alone needs a wider debate. Earlier we were not sure of effects of poll surveys, but the 2004 polls had brought out a "double-edged" character of poll surveys. This kind of one-upmanship, in the name of competition, even among research agencies and psephologists in 2004 was unprecedented. It was as if they operate in tandem.

If the coverage of the US presidential election by the media there highlighted some pertinent lessons to be learnt, the Assembly and Lok Sabha polls provided several insights in the context of news coverage by the media. The 2004 polls had exposed the news media survey agencies and political parties further.

Opinion Polls and Exit Polls

In the context of the 2004 general elections the Commission had convened a meeting of political parties to discuss the issue of Opinion Polls and Exit Polls. The unanimous view of all the participating members was that conducting the opinion polls and publishing results thereof, should not be allowed from the day of issue of statutory notification calling the election and till the completion of the poll. It was suggested that in a multi-phased election where poll is taken on different dates, such prohibition in theconducting and publishing the result of Opinion Polls should be for the entire period starting from the date of notification of the 1st phase of election and until the completion of the poll in the last phase. On the subject of Exit Polls, all the political parties were of the view that in a . multi-phased election, result of Exit Polls should not be allowed to the published until the completion of the poll in the last phase.'

Plenary powers under Article 324 of Constitution to issue directions requiring the media to comply with the guidelines

After obtaining the views of the political parties, the Commission had recommended to ministry that there should be specific provision in the Representation of the People Act, 1951, prohibiting publishing and disseminating the result of Exit Polls and Opinion Polls during the period mentioned above. The Law Ministry obtained the opinion: of the Attorney-General of India, who opined that prohibiting the publication of Opinion Polls and Exist Polls would be breach of Article 19(1) of the Constitution of India. He suggested that certain guidelines could be laid down to provide that while disseminating result of the poll surveys, the ageI}CY concerned should provide the public with sufficient information regarding the name of political party / organisation which commissioned the survey, the identity of the organisation conducting the survey and the methodology employed, the sample chose and the margin of error, etc., and that it is open to the Commission in exercise of its plenary powers under Article 324 to issue directions requiring the media to comply with the guidelines.

Political Leaders and Television Channels

Political leaders and television channels are playing it by ear because no scientific study has been made on the correlation between exposure on television. and the number of votes won by a candidate or party? Advertising's rule of thumb is that the more a message is repeated, the greater the exposure a person or party receives, the greater should be the appeal, assuming that the party's representative does not put his foot in mouth or put off people by other angularities.

Pollsters and Psephologists

As much as the losers in the Uttar Pradesh Assembly Election 2007, the proliferating tribe of psephologists wantonly went ahead with their projections of perceived results and channels poured out statistics and analyses with both case and often profundity. These pollsters and psephologists are generally arm-chair commentator out of touch with the ground reality and work on small sample that often led them to guess work.

It is high time the learned author's have guidelines both for the news media to use poll surveys and for surveys agencies to disclose their methodology and not exclude any findings implied in such surveys which are critical. The Election Commission should restrain exit polls and pre-polls surveys with disclosure norms and conditions.

Pre-poll surveys

Methodologies used by research agencies in this context, by and large, remained the same despite significant changes in the polities of the country. Going off the mark is nothing unusual in the case of pre-poll surveys. But, not so with exit polls, particularly the way they were held in 1998 and 1999 and yet 2004 witnessed a further debacle and by the same Psephologists as if we have not learnt anything." TV channels have misused exit polls. Lack of sensitivity in the media itself about methodologies too has added to the "let-down" by survey and psephologists."

Role of Television

The role of television in campaigning and seeking to influence the outcomes is coming into sharper focus each day. A picture, it is said, is worth a thousand word, and television shot of a leader addressing a rally is worth its weight in gold. Having graduated from the monotonous days of Doordarshan to a veritable feast of private channels, television reign supreme today.

Surrogate Advertisements appear in print media

It has been observed that surrogate advertisements appear in print media, especially newspapers, for and against particular political parties and candidates during election period.f As per Section 77(1) of the Representation of the People Act, 1951, expenditure involved in the such advertisements in connection with the election of any candidate has to be added to account of election expenses of the candidate, required to be maintained under that section. Further, Section 171-H of Indian Penal Code prohibits incurring of expenditure on, inter alia, advertisement, circular or publication, for the purposes of promoting or procuring the election of a candidate, without authority from the candidate. The surr0:fate advertisements defeat the purposes of the aforesaid provisions of Law.

Television elections battles

Indeed, television election coverage is now planned in the manner of a war strategy, impacting as it does on ratings and hence attracting commercials. The essential ingredient are to make it informative and entertaining, with the all-important caveat of retaining viewers' interest. Each political party has earmarked television spokesmen who were unleased on important occasions, the big guns reserved for major spots. Not fielding men or women ready with instant reactions is to lose out in the television elections battles.

TV exit polls

In a sense, the television medium is ideal for staging these shows. There are large audience avid to grasp every scrap of information they can gather on their candidates and parties and in these days of coalitions at the State as well as central levels, foreknowledge helps in planning strategies in order to maximize a party's gains. No wonder even newspapers have taken to recording the varying results of TV exit polls.

Footer:
# See AIR 2008, Journal Section, at pages 139,140.
# See AIR 2008, Journal Section, at page 140.
# Election Commission of India, Proposed Electoral Reforms, 30th July 2004, referred in AIR 2008, Journal Section, at page 141
# See AIR 2008, Journal Section, at page 140.
# The Tribune, 19th January, 2004, referred in AIR 2008, Journal Section, at pages 141, 142
# See AIR 2008, journal Section. at page 141.
# See AIR 2008, Journal Section, at page 142
# See AIR 2008, Journal Section, at page 140
# See AIR 2008, Journal Section, at page 142
# See AIR 2008, Journal Section, at page 142
# The Tribune 11th February, 2005, referred in AIR 2008, Journal Section, at page 141
# See AIR 2008, Journal Section, at page 140.
# N. Bhaskara Rao "Simply Inconsequential, Media has little impact on election 2004" The Tribune 15th November, 2004
# N. Bhaskara Rao "Simply Inconsequential, Media has little impact on election 2004" The Tribune 15th November, 2004
# N. Bhaskara Rao "Simply Inconsequential, Media has little impact on election 2004" The Tribune 15th November, 2004
# Election Commission of India, Proposed Electoral Reforms, 30th July 2004, referred in AIR 2008, Journal Section, at page 142
# Election Commission of India, Proposed Electoral Reforms, 30th July 2004, referred in AIR 2008, Journal Section, at page 142
# See AIR 2008, Journal Section, at page 140.
# S. Nihal Singh "Politics on the Box- News channels adopting town hall format" The Tribune 15th February 2005
# The Tribune 14th July, 2007
# See AIR 2008 Journal Section, at page 141
# See N. Bhaskara Rao "Simply Inconsequential, Media had Little Impact on Election 2004", The Tribune 15th November, 2004
# See AIR 2008 Journal Section, at page 141
# See AIR 2008 Journal Section, at page 140.
# See AIR 2008 Journal Section, at page 14l.
# Election Commission of India, Proposed Electoral Reforms, 30th July 2004
# See AIR 2008 Journal Section, at page 140.
# See AIR 2008 Journal Section, at page 140.

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