Sunday, January 9, 2011

Ban On Opinion Polls Or More Press Freedom?

These are some statements that came out of the Second Regional Consultation on Electoral Reforms, organised by the Union Law and Justice Ministry in Kolkata on January 9.

From The Hindu: Chief Election Commissioner S. Y. Quraishi on Sunday favoured banning of opinion polls with the enforcement of the model code of conduct and said the constitutional body should also be empowered with the right to deregister fake political parties. Calling for stringent action to curb the growth of money power and ‘paid news’, Mr. Quraishi said the EC had, time and again, suggested that persons having criminal records be debarred from contesting any election. The CEC said it was also opposed to state funding of elections. “If it is done, political parties will get more money and there is possibility of misuse of money.” He suggested that period of punishment for disqualification of candidates be extended from three years to five years.

The idea of controlling bad practices with ‘bans’ is an idea that will seldom succeed. There is no doubt that our media peddles a lot of biased opinion polls but that is a small price to pay for freedom of speech. The culture of banning polls, books and other expressions or speech runs contrary to the very idea of democracy. The only way fake opinion polls will fade or stop is when people get wiser and show greater maturity. This is already happening to some extent and will continue to happen. One cannot keep fooling people all the time. Fact is, people have made opinion polls look outright silly on many occasions. So whether the opinion poll is run before or after the model code of conduct comes into force doesn’t really matter.

And how does one act against ‘paid news’? Obviously, this is not something that is paid for with a cheque and supported by a bill by the publisher. It is clearly a ‘black-money’ operation. Therefore, the same action required to target black money may perhaps be the answer.

Much as mediacrooks abound, the temptation to fiddle with freedom of speech and expression must be curbed. The two main councils that guide the news and advertising media are Press Council of India and the Advertising Standards Council of India. Neither of them have any punitive provisions for infringements and do not have any power other than recording or pointing out unfair or unethical practices.

The EC also suggests that punishment for disqualification of candidates be extended from 3 to 5 years. My knowledge is limited but I cannot recollect a single disqualified candidate being punished by any sentence. So it’s not at all clear what purpose such a change would serve.

It’s all very nice to talk about freedom of speech, free press, democracy and so on in this country. But is this really true? Let’s take a look at the Press Freedom Index 2010 put out by Reporters Without Borders. Out of over 200 countries surveyed India stands at 122! That should be some indication of the free speech enjoyed in the world’s largest democracy.

Some of the countries ranked ahead of India are Ghana, Mali, Costa Rica, Taiwan, Burkina Faso, Haiti, Central African Republic, Kenya, Kuwait, Tonga, Sierra Leone, Nepal and some. The UK ranks 19, USA 20 and France 44. Some of the countries we lead in the rankings are Zimbabwe, Bangladesh, Afghanistan, Pakistan, Iran, North Korea, Eritrea and some. That tells a tale of its own!

The only way we can have a responsible media is to allow them complete freedom with proper regulations in place. Currently there is neither proper regulation nor complete freedom. And this is not just for the press and the media. This is for every citizen in this country. Let's have the courage to tolerate the Arundhatis and the Binayaks, no matter how much the provocation. You can muzzle speech, you cannot muzzle 'thought'!


  1. A curb was propounded by Rajiv and the very same PC addressed in the parliament when objections were raised under freedom of speech, ".....when you take the sword in the war pit you must hard and fast fight and if need die...." is still ringing in my eyes. But subsequently dropped. Now it will be considered lucrative if a curb is imposed rather than maintaining Burka dutt, Radia Sanghvi etc. Anything is possible in India as long as PC, DS, Moily, Sibal and the last but not least Mukherjee are there top cement anything adverse to the unaccountable two premiers.

    I agree, public are not believing the paid pre poll and it had offlate proved a hoarse

  2. I agree fully with vaidyanathan

  3. Dear Mates, Have you noticed offlate NDTV has changed direction to TN eying on the ensuing general election?

  4. According to Freedom House’s Freedom of the Press index, only 17 percent of the world's citizens live in countries that enjoy a free press. In the rest of the world, governments as well as non-state actors control the viewpoints that reach citizens and brutally repress independent voices who aim to promote accountability, good governance, and economic development.

    What is News? “Is not news history and history is not total recall, but a deliberate pruning of and culling from the flux of events’.

    It is never possible to reproduce an occasion in all its particularity and if it were so, all reproductions would be interchangeable. “ In the reproduction of news every step involves the conscious intervention of some news gatherer, and two accounts of the same events will never be the same”.

    Whether it be Print or TV media, but the TV media has visuals with which it can not unduly play foul. It is the one up man ship what matters in all the media business in that each of would like to say that it is they who have reported the news first and claim honors for nothing. They add colour, add spice and train the viewer’s mind to get glued to one choice with all sophistication and crudity in presenting the news.

    For instance, the TOI is always a pro establishment channel. But the Times channel play a different card thanks to the money poured in its kitty. The Hindu is on a different course under the person called Ram. It is so in all the channels. There is no TV channel which is free from bias.

    That is why I ask the author of this blog whether he is ready to come up with a proposal for airing a no non-sense news TV channel. Let Ravinar stop blogging but instead go on in the air, with me of course.

  5. @ emmaarcee

    It's a nice thought to start a no-nonsense TV channel of our own. However, I doubt I have the kind of capital it takes, especially in the current situation. But one never knows, it might even happen and when it does, I will surely be calling on you to be a big part of it. Thanks for the comments.

  6. @ vaidyanathan kesavaiyer

    Thanks for being here so regularly and commenting. Yes, freedom comes with a price and we have to pay for it by having creatures like Barkha, Sanghvi etc. Someday the sword might indeed fall on them...Hahahaaha!!

  7. @emmarcee
    A good idea and the name of the channel is also appealing.Let me added as a nut?


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