In the backdrop of controversy over paid news, the Press Council of India has come out with guidelines for the media like not partaking any hospitality or inducements from political parties and candidates while covering the Assembly polls in four states.
The PCI said that in the event of staggered polls, no newspaper shall publish exit-poll surveys till the last date of the polls is over, however, genuine they may be.
Whenever newspapers publish pre-poll surveys, they should take care to preface them conspicuously by identifying the institutions 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.
It directed the press to observe all the orders and instructions of the Election Commission or Returning Officer or Chief Electoral Officer issued from time to time.
The press is not expected to indulge in canvassing for a particular candidate or party. If it does, it shall allow the right to reply to the other candidate or party, the guidelines said.
It asked the press not to accept any kind of inducement, financial or otherwise to project a candidate or party. “The press should refrain from publishing false or critical statements with regard to the personal character and conduct of any candidate or in relation to the candidature or withdrawal of any candidate or candidature.”
The guidelines further said that election campaign along communal and caste lines is banned under the Representation of the People Act, 1951. “The press should eschew reports which tend to promote feelings of enmity or hatred between people on the ground of region, religion, race, caste community or language”.
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, the guidelines said.
Realising the dangers of “paid news” to democracy as well as the right to freedom of expression enshrined in article 19 of the Constitution of India, the PCI in June, 2009, appointed a sub-committee comprising Paranjoy Guhathakurta and Kalimekolam Sreenivas Reddy to examine the phenomenon and subsequently came out with guidelines based on a report by them.
West Bengal, Tamil Nadu, Kerala and Assam and Union Territory of Puducherry are going to polls in April-May.