New Delhi: In what seems to be a U-turn in its approach to media coverage, the Election Commission of India (ECI) Wednesday said that it was “sincerely committed to its faith in free media”.
This comes just days after the poll body had sought a gag order from the Madras High Court on the media, barring them from reporting the oral observations of judges in election-related cases.
In a statement, the Election Commission dismissed the call for a media gag as a “narrative” and said, “The Commission very specially recognises media’s role in enhancing effectiveness of election management and in reinforcing transparency from the very beginning of election process till the end, including transparent coverage during all processes, campaigning and from polling station level to counting.”
“ECI’s approach on the collaboration with media is that of a natural ally and remains unchanged,” it added.
Last week, the Madras High Court came down heavily on the ECI for not taking measures against political parties for violating Covid-19 protocols during the recently concluded elections in five states.
The court told the poll body that “you should be put on murder charges probably” and that they were “the most irresponsible over the last few months in not stopping political parties from wanton abuse of the Covid-19 protocol”. The court had also said that the commission was the “only institution responsible for the situation that we are in today”.
In response, the poll body appealed to the high court to put a gag order on the media, preventing them from reporting such observations.
It noted that because of media reports, people had started filing police complaints accusing the commission and its officials of murder and culpable homicide and this had caused great damage to its reputation.
Therefore, the EC said, the court must restrict the media to report only written orders, and not oral observations. The plea was, however, rejected by the court.
Internal split within EC on media gag: Report
After the Madras High Court rejected their plea, the Election Commission approached the Supreme Court Monday.
However, the apex court also said that oral observations of judges are in the “larger public interest”, and the media cannot be stopped from reporting them.
Meanwhile, media reports indicate that there was also an internal split within the Election Commission regarding its decision to approach the high court for the media gag.
A report by The Indian Express, published Wednesday, stated that one of the two incumbent Election Commissioners was against the decision to appeal for a gag — a view that was overruled by the rest of the commission.
In what appeared to be a response to the report, the commission said in its statement, “The Election Commission was unanimous that before Hon’ble Supreme Court there should not be any prayer for restriction on media reporting.”
As Covid cases surge across the country, there has been mounting criticism against the poll body for allowing elections in the country to go on in the absence of any social distancing norms and pandemic protocols.
As reported by ThePrint Wednesday, there has been an up to 530 per cent spike in Covid cases in states where elections have just concluded.
(Edited by Rachel John)