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EC objects to airing of exit polls on TV

Election Commission seeks a ban on opinion polls as they affect free and fair voting, reports Satya Prakash.

india Updated: Apr 21, 2007 02:57 IST

The Election Commission on Friday took exception to various TV channels airing opinion and exit polls during elections, saying it affected free and fair exercise of franchise by the electorate.

During the hearing of a PIL seeking a ban on opinion and exit polls in the country, Election Commission Counsel Meenakshi Arora submitted before a Bench headed by Chief Justice KG Balakrishnan that it needed to be regulated.

She gave the example of 'insta poll' conducted by a TV channel during the recently concluded Punjab Assembly elections which was aired right from 10 am on the day of polling. She demanded expeditious hearing of the matter.
Press Council of India (PCI) too favoured the idea of having some kind of regulations with regard to conduct and airing of opinion and exit polls.

PCI counsel PH Parekh said the council has already framed guidelines for regulating the opinion and exit polls but it could not enforce the same. He agreed with the Election Commission that opinion and exit polls influenced the voters. Arora, Parekh and other lawyers, including petitioner DK Thakur’s counsel agreed that the issue was of considerable importance and needed to be decided.

However, the Bench said the matter would be taken up after the summer vacation.

In his PIL filed in 2004, advocate DK Thakur has demanded ban on opinion and exit polls on the ground that it influenced the electorate and came in the way of taking and independent decision about the candidates in fray.

The court has already issued notices to the Centre, Election Commission, PCI, Congress, BJP and TDP and nine media organisations - Sahara Television, Zee Television, Star Television, NDTV, TV Today, The Hindu, The Times of India, Hindustan Times and The Indian Express.

Maintaining that the issues raised in the petition were of "general public importance", the Election Commission has asked the court to decide whether there should be a reasonable restriction in publication and dissemination of results of the opinion polls and exit polls during certain specified periods during the election process.

It also requested the court to decide whether such reasonable restriction is beyond the scope of reasonable restrictions envisaged under Article 19(2) of the Constitution and whether the EC could formulate and enforce such guidelines in exercise of its powers under Article 324 of the Constitution.

The Centre has sought to distance itself from the controversy, saying it was for the EC to issue due directions/frame guidelines in exercise of its plenary powers under Article 324 of the Constitution to regulate the opinion and exit polls. However, it said that any such regulation should not infringe the fundamental right to freedom of speech and expression guaranteed to citizens under Article 19(1)(a)of the Constitution.

In its 1996 guidelines, the PCI had advised newspapers to adopt certain procedure while publishing opinion polls and defer exit polls till the last phase of the polls was over.

The apex court had in April 2004 declined to stay the telecast, broadcast and publication of opinion and exit polls till the completion of the general elections that year.

First Published: Apr 20, 2007 21:23 IST