Ahead of the upcoming Assembly polls in five states, the Press Council of India (PCI) asked the print media on Wednesday to follow the norms of journalistic conduct set by it and refrain from publishing paid news.
It also asked the print media not to publish any news items or other contents in violation of the Representation of the People Act, 1951.
”Elections in India are the backbone of our democracy and the responsibility on the media for bringing all related information to the public is heavy,” the PCI said in a statement.
”The Press Council of India advises media not to violate section 126 of the RP (Representation of the People) Act, 1951 and Norms of Journalistic Conduct-2020 on paid news,” it said in a nine-point advisory to the print media with regard to the coverage of the elections.
In its advisory, the PCI asked the print media to observe all the directions, orders and instructions of the Election Commission (EC), the returning officers and the chief electoral officer, issued from time to time.
”The print media is advised to take note of section 126 of the RP Act, 1951 that prohibits publishing any election matter by means, inter alia, of newspaper or any apparatus, during the period of 48 hours before the hour fixed for conclusion of poll in a constituency,” the PCI said, taking note of the EC’s advisory issued to the media in this connection on January 14.
An ”election matter”, as defined under section 126 of the RP Act, is any matter intended or calculated to influence or affect the result of an election. A violation of the aforesaid provisions of the section 126 is punishable with imprisonment up to two years, or with fine or both.
”In the event of staggered polls, no newspaper shall publish exit-poll surveys, however genuine they may be, till the last date of the polls is over,” the PCI said.
It noted that it will be the duty of the press to publish ”objective reports” about the contesting candidates.
”The newspapers are not expected to indulge in unhealthy election campaigns, exaggerated reports about any candidate or party or incident during the elections,” it said.
In practice, two or three candidates locked in keenly-watched contests attract all the media attention, the PCI noted.
”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,” it added.
Noting that election campaigning along communal or caste lines is banned under the rules, the council advised the print media to ”eschew” reports that tend to promote feelings of enmity or hatred between people on the ground of religion, race, caste, community or language.
It said 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 a candidate or his or her candidature, to prejudice the prospects of the candidate in the elections.
”The press shall not publish unverified allegations against any candidate or party,” it said.
The PCI noted that the press is not expected to indulge in the canvassing of a particular candidate or a party and said ”if it does, it shall allow the right of reply to the other candidate or party”.
The press shall not accept or publish any advertisement ”at the cost of public exchequer regarding achievements of a party or a government in power”, the print media watchdog said.
”The press shall not accept any kind of inducement, financial or otherwise, to project a candidate or a party. It shall not accept hospitality or other facility offered to them on behalf of any candidate or party,” it added.