Is the electoral commission up to the task?
The fact that an Electoral Commissioner said that journalists are the “eyes and ears” of the Electoral Commission is music to our ears. We are all the more happy that his words have been acted upon, as the EC has proposed to the Ministry of Justice that a provision be added to the relevant law that will protect journalists covering the elections. The EC is calling for a sentence of up to three years in prison as well as a fine for obstructing the duties of journalists.
The role the media plays in elections has become very crucial in recent years, with growing concerns that citizens are not able to exercise their right to participate in free and fair elections. Despite the violence that has marred polls in almost every corner of the country over the years – the latest of which saw a 10-month-old child killed in the Union Parishad elections in Thakurgaon – journalists have continued to do their job. to keep the nation informed on election-related developments.
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Although we welcome the measure to protect journalists, we believe that it cannot exist in isolation from the other measures that must be put in place to guarantee fair and safe elections.
However, it was not easy. There have been repeated instances of attacks on journalists by candidates and their supporters. Despite special ID cards issued by the EC to facilitate election coverage, journalists were prevented from entering polling stations, including by members of the security forces. There have even been instances where journalists have been arrested under the controversial Digital Security Act for reporting election irregularities. Therefore, we commend the EC for taking steps to protect journalists, and hope that this provision will be approved and codified into law as soon as possible.
According to a report by this daily, the proposal includes giving the EC the power to cancel the polls and the president the power to close the polls. The EC already has enough authority to take drastic action if a complaint is received during the ballot. However, in recent times we have rarely seen him take action when such complaints are received, or even when electoral codes of conduct are openly flouted, such as when a ruling party MP continued to campaign for a running for mayor of Cumilla even after the EC “asked” him to leave his constituency. So how can we be sure that the EC will be tough on such election irregularities, including the obstruction of journalists, this time around? How can you be sure that this new provision will not be used arbitrarily? Clearly, the EC – because of the way it has managed its affairs thus far, including allowing the use of EVDs over the objections of many parties – has a credibility problem of its own.
So, while we welcome the journalist protection measure, we believe that it cannot exist in isolation from the other measures that need to be put in place to ensure fair and safe elections. The EC must rise to the task.