If the impression that the media is susceptible to money spreads, people will stop believing what they read at the time of elections. Paid news is a dangerous phenomenon, which has to be rightly dealt with, the former Chief Election Commissioner, Navin Chawla, said on Monday.
Delivering a special address on ‘Management of Election System' at the School of Management in Pondicherry University, he said the outcome of the investigations the Election Commission of India opened into paid news, in its quasi-judicial capacity, would be a “very important threshold for the future of elections and media.”
Calling the general elections in India the “largest management exercise in the entire world,” Mr. Chawla said there were 740 million registered voters in 2009, with 580 million having voter cards. More than 11 million personnel (eight million civilian staff members and three million Central and State police personnel) were deployed for election duty.
The Election Commission drew up the poll schedule on its own, without consulting the executive, he said, and it had always ensured a level playing ground by addressing the grievances of Opposition parties. Compared with the 2004 elections, there was hardly any violation in 2009.
Stressing the importance of every vote, Mr. Chawla recalled how the Election Commission had set up a polling booth in the Gir forest in Gujarat, where there was only one voter. There were several instances of high-profile candidates having lost by a single vote, thus missing the chance of becoming Chief Minister.
Answering questions on the controversies surrounding electronic voting machines (EVMs), he said both companies making the machines were credible and “out-of-bound” public sector units that had their own mechanisms to safeguard the technicalities. Pointing out that he could not speak much on it since the matter was in the Delhi High Court, Mr. Chawla said: “A little bit of the problems to do with the EVMs was because a particular private company wanted to enter the field, and it could not be possibly allowed.”