Fifth editors’ conclave on ‘elections and the media’
Statesman News Service
Kolkata, 20 November
The Election Commission (EC) transformed itself, became proactive, shook the government system and changed relations between the organs of the state, said Mr Sayan Chatterjee, a former deputy Election Commissioner and secretary to the government of India, while delivering the keynote address at the fifth Editors’ Conclave organised by the CR Irani Foundation in association with Konrad Adenauer Stiftung at Vedic Village, near here, today.
A vigorous implementation of the Model Code of Conduct ensured that there was a level playing field between the contesting political parties, Mr Chatterjee said. The commission took several proactive steps to bring in purity in the election process. One of it was operationalisation of Section 8 of the Representation of the People Act, 1951, which had remained dormant since its enactment. The second measure was introduction of Electronic Voting Machines to bring about a quick declaration of election results.
In this clean up process, said Mr Chatterjee, certain aberrations had crept in. Political parties owning and running television channels gave biased coverage of elections. Drastic changes brought about in quick succession tended to destabilise and disrupt the system and turned out to be counter productive.
Prof Dr Peter Schiwy, German University of Administrative Sciences, Speyer, and former head of German Radio, in his address said electoral system in his country was the result of a fatal dictatorial oppression. The system could be understood by the people&’s interest in Parliament as a mirror that reflected manifold political disturbances.
Initiating a panel discussion on Election Reforms and Judicial Intervention, Ms Kalyani Shankar, senior journalist and author, said there were huge concerns about the chinks in the electoral system.
“It is not as if other countries do not have this problem. It is a far more sophisticated form of corruption that takes place there.”
Ms Shankar said that all parties notionally agree that people with criminal records should not contest elections but in practice they resist any attempt to enforce this. There are fundamental flaws in our political system. People lose faith because muscle power and money power has taken over our democratic system.
“It is no coincidence that the comprehensive Electoral Reforms Bill has been pending before the Parliament for the last two decades,” said Ms Shankar. “Because Parliament refused to act, the Supreme Court had to intervene.”
Mr Ravindra Kumar, editor, The Statesman, said paid news cannot be eradicated as long as the cover price of newspaper is much below the cost of the newsprint. Compared to our neighbouring countries the price of newspapers in India is the lowest. He said that all news is paid news, the question of honesty and dishonesty depends on whether the readers are paying for it or someone else.
Mr Sam Rajappa, founder-director of the Statesman Print Journalism School, said the Supreme Court was forced to become proactive and ruled that a voter could exercise the option of negative voting and reject all candidates as unworthy of being elected by pressing “None Of The Above” (NOTA) button on the electronic voting machines (EVMs).
Citing  the example of Jose Saramago&’s book Seeing, where an entire village casts blank votes and the government has no idea why, Ms Usha Ramanathan, lawyer and social activist, said that if the NOTA option was exercised, our government might face a similar predicament.
Mr NK Singh, former Resident Editor, The Hindustan Times, Bhopal, said the situation is not as bad as depicted. Mr Siddharth Bhatia, senior journalist, said in any democracy, all the four estates have to work in harmony. Politicians were important and all have to work to strengthen the system and not destabilise it.
Mr Manash Ghosh, editor, Dainik Statesman, recalled how the introduction of voter ID cards had rattled former West Bengal Chief Minister, the late Jyoti Basu because his party would find it difficult to rig elections.
Mr Ajoy Bose, senior journalist, said that the media is controlled by the government and politicians and they are a major threat to free media.
By Debanjan Seth, Debapriya Sen, Debashree Karan, Dipta Das, Manisha Ghosh, Riddhiman Mukhopadhyay, Sanchaiyata Majumdar, Shrabani Basak, Tapobon Mitra  (SPJS Students)