Section 126 of the RP Act, 1951 - Background Context
A committee established to review, reconsider and suggest amendments and changes pursuant to Section 126 and other Sections of RP Act 1951 and allocation of Model Code of Conduct has put forward its report. This committee panel was headed by Mr. Umesh Sinha, senior deputy official authority from Election Commissioner.
What does Section 126 of RP Act, 1951 state?
- Section 126 of the RP Act restricts the exhibit of any election matter of advertisement through any means, Section 126 of the RP Act prohibits displaying any Election Matter by means, inter alia, of Television or similar medium, during the time period of 2 days (48 hours) immediately before the hour fixed for closure of poll in a concerned constituency.
- The term Election Matter can be determined as any actualization of advertisement through the medium of communication in order to influence the voter and affects the voting judgment of the masses, resulting in indirect malpractice into an instrument of defined democracy process.
- The Provision Restricts demeanor of EXIT poll and spreading of false information about the outcome of their results during the time period bracket specified therein, in the hours dedicated for the inception of polls in the first phase and half hour (30 minutes) after the time fixed for closure of the concerned poll in the final phases of in all the states.
- The provisions of Section 126 are punishable if violated. The punishment is a jail term of two years and imposed fine for the act of violation.
What has been suggested?
- The internet media, social media companies, and online instruments of possible dissemination should take down the content that seems to violate the 2 days (48 hours) of restrictions imposed to execute any kind of election campaign or advertisement prior to polling. This is supposed to happen instantly with real-time immediate effect, within 03 hours of the Election Commissioner (EC) issues such direction.
- Amendment Section 126(1) of RP act to force deployment of the “Campaign Silence Period” on tangible print media, internet electronic media, and intermediaries. The term intermediaries defined as section 2(w) of the Information Technology Act, accommodates telecom providers, internet service providers (ISP), search engines and web-hosting providers, etc.
- Introduce variation in the model code of conduct to safeguard that political parties release their election manifesto at least 3 days (i.e.72 hours) prior to commencement of the polling for the very first phase of the multi-phase election.
- During the Campaign Silence Period, the campaigners should abstain from any kind of press conference, or media interview regardless of its kind. No direct or indirect reference seeking or asking for support for political parties or candidates running an election in constituencies practicing silence period.
- The so-called intermediaries should guard/protect their publishing platform against, any kind of election propaganda or anti-election campaign, or marketing for favored parties or candidates. This has to have a notification mechanism, through which EC may notify the concerned platform of potential violations or breach of Section 126 of the RP Act.
- The EC will nominate the authority from the office to liaise with the intermediaries. The intermediaries are expected to provide a special, arranged grievance redressal channel (maybe ad-hoc in nature) for EC and also provide a special team, employable only during the election period to act on actions as asked by the EC or capable to locate and immediately take down the context that may contribute to the violation of the RP Act.
- Intermediaries should record the preventive measures are taken or strict actions against dissemination and should report it to the concerned Authority of EC. The political advertisement needs clear labeling and has to be pre-approved by the committee appointed by EC to monitor the content. This will prevent the spreading of false information. Some reports can be Publically Available, Actions Taken.
- The intermediaries need to maintain the data repository of election campaign monitoring, scrutinizing, profiled information of their sponsors, campaign expenditure, and targets achieved.
Significance (Consequences) and Outcome
- The recommendations made or put forward by the committee, if approved and implemented will expect to have a minimum interface (if not completely eliminated) of activities (direct or indirect) intended to distract and influence the voter community of constituencies during important 2 days (48 hours) of Campaign Silence Period provide by EC to the voters' community.
- The recommendations made by the Committee, when implemented will help in lowering the possible interference and intervention of activities that primarily aim at indirectly influencing voters during the valuable silence period of 48 hours provided to them.
- Maintain the “Campaign Silence Period” as expected the intended during the election season has become important considering the uncertainty and violence in many parts of India during this period. Amendment in constitutional articles and imposing constraints on intermediaries through the regulatory body isn’t enough are not providing enough support. Maintaining a silence period has become a cumbersome job, and a headache due to the increasing influence of digital and social media. Proactive support is required to stop the spreading of fake news, and respectful obedience to the protocols set by the governing body.