Cong, BJP differ on campaign silence bars on newspapers

Cong, BJP differ on campaign silence bars on newspapers

 The ruling Bharatiya Janata Party and the Opposition Congress differ over the proposal to ban political advertisements in newspapers on the day previous to the day of polling as well as on the day of polling itself.

The BJP, of late, conveyed to the Election Commission that it was opposed to expansion of the ambit of Section 126 (1) (b) in the Representation of People’s Act 1951 to bar the newspapers or magazines from publishing political advertisements or any other content that propagate the pleas of the candidates or the political parties for votes during the “silent period” ahead of the polling.

The Congress, however, argued in favour of banning publication of such contents in print media after the end of the campaign period ahead of polling during an election.  

The Section 126 (1) of the Representation of People Act 1951 prohibits electioneering during the last 48 hours before the end of polling in order to create an environment of neutrality and silence for the voters so that they could cast votes after reasoned reflection without being swayed by last-minute appeals by the candidates or the political parties.

The sub-section ‘a’ of the Section 126 (1) of the Act prohibits convening, holding, attending, joining or addressing any public meeting or procession in connection with an election while the sub-section ‘b’ bars “display to the public any election matter by means of cinematograph, television or other similar apparatus” during the period of forty-eight hours ending with the hour fixed for the conclusion of the poll for any election. Its sub-section ‘c’ bans holding any musical concert or theatrical performance or any other entertainment or amusement to gather people and seek their votes during the silent period ahead of the polling.

“The print media has been excluded from the ambit of clause (b) of sub-section (1) of section 126, resulting in a regulatory anomaly,” the EC observed in a note it circulated among the political parties recently. The commission sought the views of the political parties on the issue.

The Congress noted in its response to the EC that it had repeatedly suggested that print media must be brought within the ambit of Section 126(1) (b) of the Representation of People’s Act 1951. The party noted that it had made its position clear during the recent State Assembly elections in Karnataka that the print media “must be subject to the same responsibilities as electronic media”. “It is constitutionally incompatible to suggest that an advertisement that could be in violation of electoral norms when broadcast electronically does not attract the same penalties when published in a print newspaper. This is a violation of the guarantee against administrative arbitrariness inherent to Article 14 of the Constitution,” the Congress wrote to the EC.

The Trinamool Congress also echoed the Congress on the issue.

The BJP, however, opposed the proposal of prohibiting publication of any content or advertisements related to the elections in newspapers and magazines ahead of polling.

“Print media, state as well as national newspapers, should be exempted from silent period proclamations. Similarly regular publication of news magazine should be exempted,” the BJP wrote to the EC.

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