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Seeing the media sensitivity towards current electoral trends, the Election Commission of India (ECI), a constitutional body responsible for conducting elections, has come up with the extra precautionary measures to monitor the media’s critical role in the upcoming general election

However, measures adopted by the ECI to tackle false and misleading contents flooding on the mainstream media and social media seems to be less effective to monitor it prudently. Therefore, a little push towards the discourse of electoral media policy is indispensible to know about the present capacity of the ECI’s media model to conduct the upcoming general election.

Election and Media

Howard holds that “Freedom is when the people can speak. Democracy is when the government listens. The media is the messenger”

Information plays an important role in every walk of life. Media is one of the largest platforms of communicating information to the masses. Media that holds its influential dominancy among the masses carry potential weightage in influencing elections. Therefore, media and its nature of circulating information is very crucial for the upcoming general election.

However, the insurgence of misinformation/disinformation and fake news at the height in social media is adding another trouble in the general elections by allowing more scope for electoral violations. Issues like Pulwama attack, release of Indian Air Force wing Commander AbhinandanVarthaman, ChowkidarNarendraModi’ Uri: The Surgical Strike and other viral videos and pictures assassinating the character of oppositions trending at social media collectively success in attending the mass consent for the purpose of electoral gain. So, the phenomena misinformation/disinformation and fake news characterized under deep political tone has clouded the upcoming general election under populism politics.

The mainstream media drive information ecology under the notions of healthy debates and discussion on the policy of incumbent government, interpreting political agenda of opposition and questioning integrity of elections. This characteristic of that media is good for the spirit of democracy. But so far so, it has appeared that the discourse of large section of mainstream media is centered toward the issue trending in social media deeply rooted in misinformation/disinformation and hate speeches.

Therefore,misinformation/disinformation and hate speeches are one of the main concerning issues for ECI in the upcoming general election.

ECI, Model Code of Conduct (MCC) and Measures:

The ECI went ahead for the upcoming general election by enforcing the Model Code of Conduct (MCC). The MCC is a set of guidelines for conducting elections. The ECI has set the Media Certification and Monitoring Committee (MCMC) mechanism at both District and State level for certification of advertisements under the part of MCC that deals with the media in elections for checking the challenges of political advertisements. At the same level, the Electronic Media Monitoring Centre (EMMC) is operating to handle the issues like spreading of hate speech, trending of fake news at social media.

Major stakeholders from the social media platforms Twitter, YouTube and Facebook have taken initiatives voluntarily to keep check the electoral offences. A little week later after enforcing the MCC, the director of public policy of Facebook in India and South Asia ShivnathThukral on the ethical ground took measures to track political advertising and limit fake news on Facebook. ‘DECODE’ is an initiation in the case of YouTube and Google News which targets the younger audience to give them a perspective of the current scenario of the country. In 2018 the ECI launched a mobile app, called ‘cVIGIL’, for citizens that made that masses easy to report quickly any violation of the model code of conduct during elections. The ECI officers are also maintaining their accounts at various platforms of social media at state and local level in pursuance of creating elections awareness among the youth.

Need of Electoral Media Policy:

The present model for media policy is right just to fix immediate problems but unproductive in fixing the advance emerging problems of the day to day media.

Pages like Bharat Ke Mann Ki Baat and Nation with NaMo alleged for propagating misinformation are the leading advertising expenditure among another political party in social media. In an investigation, NewAlt came to know that 126 pages that do not have direct links with any political party run ads favouring for them. The measures taken by the ECI are quite futile in tracing the expenditure on those pages.

Furthermore, actions took by the ECI along with Google, Facebook, and YouTube seem to be ineffective. It has been noticed that the political parties are moving for other alternative communicative platforms like Whatsapp, Telegram, TikTok furthering  political propaganda because these platforms has not been mentioned under the regulation for taking their video down. What would be the ECI’s standing on monitoring these entire communicative platforms?

All the public broadcasters All India Radio (AIR) or Doordarshan (DD)have to follow the MCC before broadcasting any government take.Days before the PM addressed the ‘Mission Shakti’ related to nation security aired on AIR and DD violated the MCC’s regulation on media. Recently, the MCMC could not stop form certifying the T-Series film producer company for releasing the trailer of the biopic film PMNarendraModi that prospects the candidate contesting the general election. In case of violation of the MCC the ECI has not been concretely entitled with any short of statutory backing to take actions against media house.

It has been reported in The Guardian that Facebook, Twitter and YouTube were struggling to stop spreading the videos of the terror attack at the Al-Noor Mosque and Linwood Islamic Center in New Zealand on their platform because the rate of uploading the video was much higher than to take down them. Therefore, the ECI has been more or less equally failed to handle the misinformation and hate speeches on the media and social media.

Therefore, primarily the missing media circle in the current electoral policy cycle should be strategically attended under the following lines:

  • Quick action against hate speech and fake videos is necessary for the free and fair election. In Kenya,iHub Research and Ushahidi Company has been able to accomplish monitoring online electoral violence. They did it by manual method of monitoring of blogs, forums, online newspapers, Facebook and Twitter accounts in multiple languages. Online media users are of largely free of government control. Therefore Government’s control on social media is essential to curb out these issues.
  • The ECI should be immune with statutory backing so that the media houses hold on violations for the MCC can be prosecuted on the legal ground.
  • The ECI must directly work at political parties which are the main sources of the genesis of misinformation and hate speeches.
  • The ECI should take mixed traditional and new social media approach at a large level to targets the younger audience to give them a perspective of the current scenario of the country. It can be done by connecting youth at multiple communicating platforms.
  • Independent media advisory institution should be set up to assisting the ECI to arrange media operations in elections. For instance, the Electoral Institute for Sustainable Democracy in Africa (EISA) assist the Zimbabwean Electoral Commission (ZEC) in making media strategies.

Hence, the media policy should be reframed considering the dynamics of information ecology where media work and elections are conducted. It can be done only by engrossing the media in elections at the level of development for media and media development. Development for media is concerned with giving proper skills and adequate infrastructure to report elections materials neutrally and media development is for the incorporating of media houses at the multiple stages of electoral phases.

Election legitimizes democracy and the spirit of democratic break down in case of body conduct elections fails to deal with an electoral issue in the electoral process. Therefore, an inclusive media strategy integrated with the electoral cycle in elections is the need of the time to pursue our ultimate goal of strengthening democracy.

Md Anis Akhtar is a Research Scholar at (AMU)

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