RECENT INSTRUCTIONS (1998)



ELECTION COMMISSION OF INDIA
Nirvachan Sadan, Ashoka Road, NEW DELHI-110001


No. ECI/MCS /98/01 20 January, 1998


O R D E R


Subject - Guidelines for Publication and Dissemination of Results of Opinion Polls/Exit Polls.

The Election Commission has observed that during the run up to any general elections to the House of the People or State Legislative Assemblies, Opinion Polls are often conducted by different organisations. The results of such opinion polls are published in newspapers, magazines and other periodicals, and sometimes telecast/broadcast on the electronic media. The dissemination of such results of Opinion Polls receives wide publicity and coverage in the print and electronic media and such dissemination, particularly on the eve of polls, has the potential to influence the electors when they are in the mental process of making up of their minds to vote or not to vote for a certain political party or a candidate. The methodology followed by different organisations conducting such opinion polls varies from organisation to organisation, or the agencies, conducting such polls. Similarly, the sample size of the electorate covered by such polls and geographic spread of the survey also differs substantially in each case.

2. Apart from the Opinion Polls, Exit Polls are also conducted by some organisations on the days of polls. Considering the magnitude of the electorate in the country, particularly at the time of countrywide general elections to the House of the People, and the complexity of operations involved in the conduct of such general elections, the poll is taken in a phased manner, spread over a period of two to three weeks. Publication of result of any Exit Poll, in the intervening period when the poll in any of the States or Union Territories or constituencies is yet to be taken, is likely to affect the unbiased exercise of franchise by the elector, one way or the other.

3. Representations have been made to the Commission by various political parties and others concerned that the conduct of such Opinion Polls and Exit Polls, and publication of their results, when the election process is on, should be stopped, so that no political party or candidate suffers adversely or gain an undue advantage, because of the above.

4. The Commission has discussed the matter with all recognised National and State political parties at the meetings held in New Delhi on 22nd and 23rd December 1997. Almost all the political parties, with the exception of one or two, emphatically stated that Opinion Polls, the way the same are conducted, are unscientific. According to them, there is considerable bias in the size and the nature of the sample drawn to make such an opinion poll and they tend to influence the voters in an unbecoming manner. They further stated that many of the polls are motivated and are not impartial, because of the known leanings or prejudices of some of the organisations conducting such polls, towards or against certain political parties and/or their leaders. While some parties were in favour of opinion polls not being allowed, right from the date of announcement of elections by the Commission, a large number of parties were in favour of such restrictions being applied from the date of notification for the elections.

5. Almost all the parties were also opposed to allowing the exercise of Exit Polls and emphatically stated that the results of such Exit Polls, even if permitted, should, in no way, come out before the polling in all the constituencies in all States and Union Territories was over in all respects.

6. The Commission has carefully examined the matter. It has also examined the position as obtaining in some of the other advanced democracies in various parts of the world. It has been observed that in many of these democracies, like, Canada, France, Italy, Poland, Turkey, Argentina, Brazil, Colombia, etc., restrictions, in one way or the other, are placed on the conduct of Opinion Polls and Exit Polls.

7. The Canadian Elections Act, (vide Section 322.1) peremptorily prohibits the publication of any results of any Opinion Poll two days before the voting begins. The said Section provides as under:

"No person shall broadcast, publish or disseminate the results of an opinion survey respecting how electors will vote at an election or respecting an election issue that would permit the identification of a political party or candidate from midnight the Friday before polling day (which is always a Monday) until the close of all polling stations".

8. The Italian Decree Law of 18.11.1995, n. 488, titled "Urgent Provisions for equal access to the Media during electoral and referendary campaign" provides, vide Art. 8, as follows:-

"Starting from the 20th day before the elections till the closing date of voting, it is forbidden to publish or circulate the results of exit polls, even if such surveys were carried out before the above mentioned period."

9. In this context, the provisions of Section 126 of our Representation of the People Act, 1951, as amended by the Representation of the People (Amendment) Act, 1996, w.e.f. 1.8.1996, also deserve to be taken special note of. That Section provides as under:-

"126. Prohibition of public meetings during the period of forty-eight hours ending with hour fixed for conclusion of poll. -

(1) No person shall-

(a) convene, hold, attend, join or address any public meeting or procession in connection with an election; or

(b) display to the public any election matter by means of cinematography, television or other similar apparatus; or

(c) propagate any election matter to the public by holding, or by arranging the holding of, any musical concert or any theatrical performance or any other entertainment or amusement with a view to attracting the members of the public thereto,

in any polling area during the period of forty-eight hours ending with the hour fixed for the conclusion of the poll for any election in that polling area.

2 Any person who contravenes the provisions of sub-section (1) shall be punishable with imprisonment for a term which may extend to two years or with fine, or with both,

3. In this section, the expression "election matter" means any matter intended or calculated to influence or affect the result of an election."

10. The law, as contained in the above quoted section 126, is clear manifestation of recognition of ground reality by Parliament, in its collective wisdom and as a measure of electoral reform carried out by it as recently as August, 1996 after the last general election to the House of the People in 1996, that the voter needs a period of at least 48 hours before the completion of the poll, during which he should not be disturbed in the process of weighing the merits and demerits of political parties and contesting candidates in the electoral fray and he can absorb, what he has heard or witnessed during the campaign period, in a tranquil and balanced frame of mind.

11. Viewed in the light of the above statutory restrictions, allowing results of Opinion Polls and Exit Polls to be published, on the eve of polls or during the polling process, would be a deleterious intrusion into the mind of the voter, which is prohibited by law during the aforesaid period of 48 hours. The Commission is statutorily bound to take all such steps as will give effect to the Parliamentary intent and implement the law, in letter and spirit, as laid down by Parliament.

12. The Commission is conscious of the fact that, in any democratic society, the electors, who choose their representatives to give them a government, do have a right to have information, and be informed and educated, about the policies, programmes, manifestos, etc., of political parties and candidates, who are vying for their votes, and who, if voted to power, will form the government. The Commission is equally conscious of the ‘freedom of press’ in any democratic country, and the rights of the print and electronic media to gather information, on any issue or event of public importance, and disseminate it to the general public for their information and decision making. But the Commission also has to balance between such rights of the print and electronic media and the rights of the electorate in the matter of exercise of their franchise in a free and fair manner, uninfluenced by any extraneous factors. In striking such balance, it would not be unreasonable and unfair to place certain reasonable restrictions on the dissemination of information, particularly unverified information, by the print and electronic media, on the eve of polls.

13. In this context, the guidelines framed by the Press Council of India, established under an Act of Parliament with the object of preserving the freedom of Press and of maintaining and improving its standards, in regard to the dissemination of results of Opinion Polls and Exit Polls, also deserve special attention. The attention of the Commission has been invited to these guidelines by none other than Hon’ble Mr. Justice P.B.Sawant, Chairman of Press Council of India and President of World Association of Press Councils. These guidelines of Press Council of India provide, inter alia, as follows:

"Guidelines on ‘Pre-poll’ and ‘Exit-Polls’ Survey

The Press Council of India having considered the question of desirability or otherwise of publication of findings of pre-poll surveys and the purpose served by them, is of the view that the newspapers should not allow their forum to be used for distortions and manipulations of the elections and should not allow themselves to be exploited by the interested parties.

The Press Council, therefore, advises that in view of the crucial position occupied by the electoral process in a representative democracy like ours, the newspapers should be on guard against their precious forum being used for distortions and manipulations of the elections. This has become necessary to emphasise today since the print media is sought to be increasingly exploited by the interested individuals and groups to misguide and mislead the unwary voters by subtle and not so subtle propaganda on casteist, religious and ethnic basis as well as by the use of sophisticated means like the alleged pre-poll surveys. While the communal and seditious propaganda is not difficult to detect in many cases, the interested use of the pre-poll survey, sometimes deliberately planted, is not so easy to uncover. The Press Council, therefore, suggests that whenever the newspapers publish pre-poll surveys, they should take care to preface them conspicuously by indicating the institutions which have carried such surveys, the individuals and organisations which have commissioned the surveys, the size and nature of sample selected, the method of selection of the sample for the findings and the possible margin of error in the findings.

Further in the event of staggered poll dates; the media is seen to carry exit-poll surveys of the polls already held. This is likely to influence the voters where the polling is yet to commence. With a view to ensure that the electoral process is kept pure and the voters’ minds are not influenced by any external factors, it is necessary that the media does not publish the exit-poll surveys till the last poll is held.

The Press Council, therefore, requests the Press to abide by the following guideline in respect of the exit-polls:

Guideline:

No newspaper shall publish exit-poll surveys, however, genuine they may be, till the last of the polls is over."

14. Having regard to all the above mentioned facts and circumstances, and the constitutional and legal provisions relevant to the issue under consideration, the Election Commission has, in pursuance of its sacred and solemn duty of conducting free and fair elections to Parliament and State Legislatures, entrusted to it by Article 324 of the Constitution, decided to lay down the following Guidelines for observance by print and electronic media, including government controlled electronic media in connection with the conduct of Opinion Polls and Exit Polls by them, during the forthcoming general elections to the House of the People and the Legislative Assemblies of Gujarat, Himachal Pradesh, Meghalaya, Nagaland and Tripura:

Guidelines of the Election Commission of India

(i) The organisations or agencies conducting Opinion Polls shall be free to conduct such polls, and publish results thereof, in or by any print or electronic media, at any time, except the period mentioned in clause (ii), during the run up to the polls for the aforesaid general elections to the House of the People and State Legislative Assemblies mentioned above.

(ii) No result of any opinion poll conducted at any time shall, be published, publicised or disseminated, in any manner whatsoever, in or by any print or electronic media, after 1700 hours on the 14th February, 1998 (16th February, 1998 being the first day of poll for the aforesaid general elections) and till half an hour after the closing of poll in all States and Union Territories, expect three Parliamentary Constituencies in the State of Jammu and Kashmir i.e., 1730 hours on the 28th February, 1998.

(iii) The above organisations and agencies shall also be free to conduct exit polls. But the result of any such exit poll conducted at any time shall also not be published, publicised or disseminated, in any manner whatsoever, in or by any print or electronic media, at any time from 0700 hours on the 16th February, 1998 (being the first day of poll for the aforesaid general elections) and till half an hour after the closing of poll in all States and Union Territories, except three Parliamentary Constituencies i.e., 1730 hours on the 28th February, 1998.

(iv) Any organisations or agencies conducting any Opinion Poll or Exit Poll, while publishing, publicising or disseminating the result of any such poll, must indicate the sample size of the electorate covered by such polls and geographic spread of survey so conducted. They must invariably give the details of methodology followed, likely percentage of errors, the professional background and experience of the organisation or organisations and the key professionals involved in the conduct and analysis of the poll.

Explanation: In this Order, -

(a) ‘Electronic media’ includes Radio and Television - both Government owned and Private and covers Satellite, Terrestrial and Cable Channels.

(b) 'Dissemination’ includes publication in any newspaper, magazine or periodical, or display on electronic media, or circulation by means of any pamphlet, poster, placard, handbill or any other document.

15. The above guidelines shall also apply mutatis mutandis at all future elections to Parliament and State Legislatures.


By Order,



(Subas Pani)
Deputy Election Commissioner

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