In case you were wondering, the Press Council of India, a body that looks over the print media - newspapers, newsmagazines, the lot has come out with a set of guidelines for coverage for the General Elections. As such, they state the bleeding obvious, but then again given the brains of some journalists, the bleeding obvious has to be stated. I'm publishing the guidelines below, but I just have one question - What about the television channels? In the surfeit of guidelines for TV channels and the joke of 'self-censorship' and the rather open political stance taken by some channels given their ownership direct (Jaya TV for example) or indirect (any of the English channels with their penchant to create mass hysteria against the BJP) - is the broadcasters association going to come up with anything or will this be open season?
About the guidelines - firstly, I think it is the right of any paper to 'endorse' a party though not candidates (in India). I also think that rule four could be interesting - I doubt it will ever get followed particularly since money is in really short supply - though HT has made a good start but they could ease up on carrying their reporters pictures, but the coverage so far has been interesting. Anyway more later.
PRESS COUNCIL GUIDELINES
i) General Election is a very important feature of our democracy and it is imperative that the media transmits to the electorate fair and objective reports of the election campaign by the contesting parties. Freedom of the Press depends to a large measure on the Press itself behaving with a sense of responsibility. It is, therefore, necessaryto ensure that the media adheres to this principle of fair andobjective reporting of the election campaign. The Press Council has, therefore, formulated the following guidelinesto the media for observance during elections:
1. 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 the actual campaign, a newspaper may not leave out any important point raised by a candidate and make an attack on his or her opponent.
2. 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 ofreligion, race, caste, community or language.
3. 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 anycandidate or his candidature, to prejudice the prospects of thatcandidate in the elections. The Press shall not publish unverified allegations against any candidate/party.
4. The Press shall not accept any kind of inducement, financial orotherwise, to project a candidate/party. It shall not accept hospitality or other facilities offered to them by or on behalf of any candidate/party.
5.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 theother candidate/party.
6. The Press shall not accept/publish any advertisement at the cost of public exchequer regarding achievements of a party/ government in power.
7. The Press shall observe all the directions/orders/instructions of the Election Commission/Returning Officers or Chief Electoral Officer issued from time to time.
ii) Guidelines on 'Pre-poll' and 'Exit-polls' Survey-1996
The Press Council of India having considered the question of desirability or otherwise of publication of findings of pre-poll surveys and the purpose served by them, is of theview that the newspapers should not allow their forum to be used for distortions and manipulations of the elections and should not allow themselves to be exploited by the interested parties.
The Press Council, therefore, advises that in view of the crucial position occupied by the electoral process in a representative democracy like ours, the newspapers should be on guard against their precious forum being used for distortions and manipulations of the elections. This has become necessary to emphasize today since the print media is sought to be increasingly exploited by the interested individuals and groups to misguide and mislead the unwary voters bysubtle and not so subtle propaganda on casteist, religious and ethnicbasis as well as by the use of sophisticated means like the alleged pre-poll surveys. While the communal and seditious propaganda is not difficult to detect in many cases, the interested use of the pre-poll survey, sometimes deliberately planted, is not so easy to uncover.
ThePress Council, therefore, suggests that whenever the newspapers publish pre-poll surveys, they should take care to preface them conspicuously by indicating the institutions which have carried such surveys, the individuals and organisations which have commissioned the surveys, the size and nature of sample selected, the method of selection of the sample for the findings and the possible margin of error in the findings.
2. Further in the event of staggered poll dates, the media is seen to carry exit-poll surveys of the polls already held. This is likely to influence the voters where the polling is yet to commence. With a view to ensure that the electoral process is kept pure and the voters'minds are not influenced by any external factors, it is necessary that the media does not publish the exit-poll surveys till the last poll is held.
3. The Press Council, therefore, requests the Press to abide by thefollowing guideline in respect of the exit polls:
Guideline: No newspaper shall publish exit-poll surveys, however, genuine they may be, till the last of the polls is over.