EC must share blame for manifesto telecast

Pradyuman MaheshwariSo there was a fair amount of furore over Samajwadi Party minister in UP Azam Khan’s outbursts against BJP’s Amit Shah last night. Khan called Shah a ‘goonda’ and a ‘qatil’ and that offered a perfect opportunity for a heated discussion on the nightlies.

Then there was the case of Arvind Kejriwal getting slapped yet again, and as I had expected, there was a BJP spokesperson wondering why the AAP leader gets slapped so often. Was it a ploy to hog airtime on television, he asked.

Clearly television is playing a huge role in General Elections 2014. On Monday, when the BJP unveiled its controversially delayed manifesto, there was uproar over the live telecast of its release. According to news reports, Election Commissioner HS Bramha said that the telecast should have been avoided in the six constituencies today.

While technology allows for channels to selectively block broadcast of signals to certain regions, the Election Commission could have asked the local police/administration to order cable and DTH operators to not pipe in signals of all news channels airing the manifesto.

It’s easy to damn the news channels, but since there was enough knowledge about the date, time and venue of the release of the manifesto, the EC could’ve easily urged all news channels to honour the ‘Model Code of Conduct’ and look at ways to not let the polling regions get the airing. And even if they didn’t want to do it, why did they not issue a diktat to distributors who can easily be policed?

In the coming weeks, one can expect some witch-hunting of news television owners/editor until wiser counsel prevails.

The EC must understand that news doesn’t come in via television alone these days. There are lakhs of websites, blogs and tweets who are superactive in dissemination of news. Some of them have a huge influence on intelligentsia.

But it’s impossible to control the digital domain, and things are only getting more complicated in the future.

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