Chief Electoral Office (CEO) in Kerala banned many major online media and private run local news channels in the election coverage process. There was no such a discrimination in the previous elections. Some bureaucratic babus in the CEO unilaterally decided to opt out many influential online media from the list provided by the District Information Office (DIO) authorities,under the Information and Public Relations Department (IPRD) to reduce their workload. Usually,DIO authorities approve media list and send the list to Chief Electoral Office in Thiruvananthapuram. And,the cards are issued without any bias. But,this time, the election authorities denied election coverage access to online media groups. When contacted Suresh, person in charge of issuing media pass in the CEO, he said it was due to the mounting number of applications. But,media people do not believe such a claim. As per the Election Commission of India version,there is no media regulation. Every genuine media person should get media pass.
In case of media persons outside Delhi, their requests should be duly scrutinized
and sponsored by the DIPR or equivalent (by whatever name known in a State/
Union Territory) and should be forwarded to the Chief Electoral Officer who after
such consultation with the State Directors, l&PR concerned, forward consolidated
list to ECI within the stipulated time.
In addition to accredited correspondents other genuine media persons can also
be sponsored for issue of authority letters. It is up to the Pr. DG (M&C) and
concerned State DIPR to scrutinize and sponsor names of such media persons
and to lay down appropriate policies including providing temporary or casual
accreditation, even for the limited period of the covering the election process.
Election Commission will, however consider only such cases as are duly
recommended by the concerned sponsoring authority.
When, a sponsored agency, Information and Public Relations Department (IPRD) is functioned between media and election department,there is no base in the EC claim. CEO has no provision to regulate media,once the IPRD issued list of genuine media persons. But,influential and independent online media professionals find it as a media ban. If they wanted to exclude online media,why shouldn’t they issue such a circular, earlier? ask digital journalists.
The Election Commission had invited application and photographs from news organisations through DIO s for issuing media pass for both polling stations and counting centers. As per the information received from IPRD, election authorities in Thiruvananthapuram is the issuing authority. When digital media were denied access to polling booths, the issue was strongly represented by some independent online media people.
And,they were told to obtain media pass from district authorities. However,the last minute denial made many journalists in trouble and they didn’t agree with such a red-tapism. Weeks prior to the counting date,DIO informed media offices to issue minimum number of persons per an organisation. SEO didn’t mention any digital media ban at that time.
Media and civil society have an important role to
play in fostering such an environment. To improve participation of all sections of the
electorate, awareness levels need to be enhanced, especially amongst the freshly eligible
youth, uneducated, residents of far-flung, inaccessible and remote areas, and socially
and economically weaker sections of the society.
As pr the guidelines of Election Commission of India (ECI),there is no prejudice against internet or online media. ECI clarifies it:
“electronic media” includes internet, radio and television, including Internet Protocol
Television, satellite, terrestrial or cable channels, or internet/digital versions of
Print Media, mobile and such other media either owned by the Government or
private person or by both;
And,importantly,the ECI provides significant statements in the book:
Election Commission does not regulate media. It has however, the responsibility/power to enforce the provisions of law or Court directions, which might have linkages with media or certain aspects of media functioning. During elections, media is present and active at all stages which would also mean that they too conform to various laws governing the elections.
When the whole world is recognising the power of digital media, state electoral officers’ undeclared media ban has invited ire from media fraternity and policy makers.
Digital journalists in the state may take up the issue to Election Commission of India. Online media ban is to be taken into parliament with the help of newly elected MPs. Teeka Ram Meena is the Chief Electoral Officer in Kerala. He had issued his department’s advertisement in many print edition newspapers with his photograph as part of election awareness.