Wednesday, June 16, 2021

The EC’s U turn and love for Media Freedom

The pro-freedom forces need to appreciate the Election Commission of India (EC) under new chief for taking U-turn in its approach to media coverage. It was pleasant surprise that the EC said that it was “sincerely committed to its faith in free media…ECI’s approach on the collaboration with media is that of a natural ally and remains unchanged”.

Also read: DGPs, CMs – Don’t clampdown on Covid Comments in Social Media

Very recently the legal team, as per instructions of the EC, had sought a gag order from the Madras High Court on the media. It did not want media reporting the ‘oral observations of judges’ in courts.

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EC 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.” The Madras High Court rightly 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.

Also read: SC directed to reform Tribunals, Union removed them!

The Madras High Court reprimand

The court told the EC 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”. HC blamed that the commission was the “only institution responsible for the situation that we are in today”. After this, the 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. Madras High Court rejected their plea, then EC approached the Supreme Court.

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Media reported an internal split within the EC regarding its decision to approach the high court for the media gag.The Indian Express 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. Then the commission issued a statement “The Election Commission was unanimous that before Hon’ble Supreme Court there should not be any prayer for restriction on media reporting.”

Also read: Rule of law is not Rule of Goons with political support

Apex court taught ECI a lesson

If that is the reality, why it approached the SC at all. Justice Chandrachud has rightly taught a tough lesson to the EC. “The unfolding of the debate in the court of law is equally important and media has a duty to report. It is not only our judgements that are significant, but the dialogue also is.” The Supreme Court explained this common sense to the Election Commission of India. It must be an eye opener for that Constitutional institution to know the Constitutionally guaranteed powers of judiciary and the people.

Also read: SC rescues an editor, but who will compensate for harassment caused to Patricia Mukhim?

Trump visit to elections in 5 States

When first phase of Corona was hitting in India, the rulers were busy with Trump visit and as the second wave is hitting, they preferred elections in five states. The PM and Ministers leave the governance to corona winds to win elections.  The EC must have been thinking that it has promptly acted with independence, efficiency, and vision. The Model Code of Conduct framed decades ago does not have anything like precaution protocols against corona spread. If some research or investigation finds the EC’s eight phase election saga is the cause of super spread of virus resulting in genocide, why not they stand in box to answer this nation. Madras High Court raised this question and called that EC could be guilty of murder. Instead of introspection, the EC uses the lawyers and litigation to save their face. Its wisdom has also been reflected in its appeal to Supreme Court recently when it has challenged observations of the Madras High Court exposing its blinded vision. The Supreme Court carved out some of its valuable time to teach Election Commission that High Court has freedom to speak out its mind from the Bench and the media has a legal authority to report the proceedings of the High Court. Though it is supreme, the apex court cannot curb this freedom of High Courts and the media.

Also read: Can we retrieve academic freedom from clutches of dependence?

‘The Print’ reported there has been an up to 530 per cent spike in Covid cases in states where elections have just concluded.

Prof. M. Sridhar Acharyulu
Author is former Central Information Commissioner and Professor of Law at Bennett University

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