Chief Electoral Officer Frederick Roy Kharkongor today said that the Election Commission attaches maximum importance to ensuring a conducive environment for free and fair elections in the State.
He was speaking at a Media Workshop – Vartalap held here today on the theme ‘Media and Election – Electoral Risk Management and Communication with Media’ organised by Press Information Bureau, Shillong, in cooperation with DIPR Meghalaya and the Shillong Press Club.
Stating that the Election Commission together will try to ensure that a free and fair election is conducted in Meghalaya a couple of months from now, Kharkongor elaborated on the proactive role of media in holding a free and fair election.
“Media are the eyes and ears of the Election Commission and we always believe that it is a force multiplier, it is a catalyst for the delivery of a free and fair election, and it is the endeavour of both the media and the Election Commission. The need to project the right narrative is very essential because elections are to a large extent a perception game,” he said.
Speaking on the effectiveness of EVMs, Kharkongor said that the Election Commission has set ever-higher standards of efficient, smooth and professional conduct of elections and has been at the forefront of embracing, adopting and implementing the latest technological advancements in improving and fine-tuning the election processes and systems.
Information and Public Relations Director Malthus N. Sangma, acknowledging the pro-active role played by the media said that in today’s politics and society at large, media is essential to the safeguarding transparency of democratic processes.
“This is often called ‘watchdog’ role’. Transparency is required on many levels including for access to information; accountability and legitimacy of individuals, institutions and processes themselves; and for rightful participation and public debate,” he said.
Stating that transparency is required for access to information, Sangma said that an electorate should be provided with the necessary and comprehensive information so as to make informed choices as well as be able to hold officials and institutions accountable.
He said that an election cannot be deemed democratic unless the public is fully able to participate and is unhindered in exercising choice. As such, the media are vital in ensuring that there is a transparent platform for debate and participation in the discussion.
Senior journalist Anirban Roy gave a detailed presentation on ‘Appreciating the Ethical Use of Digital Tool in Info Dissemination vis a vis Effective Electioneering’.
He flagged the potential of “fake social media narratives” to affect the free and fair conduct of elections in the world.
He said, “The news gathering has become challenging in this digital era. To compete with rival media organisations and maintain speed, reporters depend heavily on open-source information. Facebook photos and posts, tweets, Instagram and WhatsApp Groups are news-gathering sources. Open-source information is not authenticated and it is often wrong or even fake. Often journalists land in trouble for writing information, which may not be 100 per cent true.”
Expressing his concern over the prevailing trend, Roy exalted that it is high time journalists should now learn to face and handle the Disinformation War in large democracies like India, especially during the elections.
“Multi-tasking journalists covering elections will need to add another feather to their hat – Digital Forensics,” he added. He also said that journalists should learn to identify fake photos and videos; identify fake tweets. He also gave examples of many online tools through which fact-checking can be done very easily.
Bikash Singh, Correspondent of Economic Times touched on the subject – “The economics Behind the Election”. He elaborated on the various provisions laid down by the Election Commission for tackling the negative effects of money power during the time of elections.
He also said that some parties keep on demanding to increase the existing expenditure limit citing inflation as the reason.
He also said that it is worth looking at Indian election economics not just at the macro level, or in terms of the “white” and “black” economies, but also further down the chain, all the way from the impact of elections on specific sectors to election windfalls for individual voters and households.
Singh said that the role, framework and capacity of election management bodies are the core building block for ‘elections integrity’ as it covers both the foundational and the functional aspects of any electoral democracy.
Director General of North East Zone, Ministry of Information & Broadcasting, B Narayanan in his address said that India’s Election Commission is a testament of a well-run election management body overseeing electoral processes.
While sharing his experience as election observer in Karnataka, Odisha and Madhya Pradesh, Narayanan expressed that various political parties at times had tried to manipulate the opinion of the general public with the help of media but the processes adopted by the Election Commission of India are robust enough to bust those false practices.
He added that social media platforms do self-proclaim that they have content display policies but they also have the “algorithm power” in play. Narayanan added that such a proactive approach to counter fake news will facilitate credible electoral outcomes that will help preserve the ‘freedoms’ that the social media platforms require to thrive.
Narayanan also said that attempts to spike the flow of information within the media sphere with falsities will get amplified in the days to follow and independent media persons need to keep themselves vigilant about them.
At the start of the programme, Shillong Press Club president David Laithphlang set the tone of the workshop by saying that journalists play a significant role in disseminating credible and balanced information that assists and empowers the masses to make well-informed decisions during elections.