The Bharatiya Janata Party told an Election Commission panel that use of the print media and door-to-door campaigns should remain excluded from the purview of the 48-hour “silent period” ahead of an election, the Hindustan Times reported on Tuesday. Most other political parties took a different view.

Section 126 of the Representation of the People Act, 1951, bans advertising and campaigning on TV and other electronic media during the 48-hour period, but skips mention of the print media.

A panel, headed by Deputy Election Commissioner Umesh Sinha, was set up in January 2018 to study how digital platforms are used ahead of polls, and to make suggestions on adapting the Model Code of Conduct and Section 126 to new trends. The panel submitted its report to the Election Commission on January 10 this year, according to the newspaper.

“Print media should not be included within the ambit of Section 126,” the BJP told the panel, according to the report. “Fake news should be stopped, and there should be measures to deal with ‘paid news’. Door-to-door campaigning should be exempt from purview of Section 126.”

Other parties, including the Congress, Janata Dal (United), Shiv Sena, Trinamool Congress, Nationalist Congress Party, Bahujan Samaj Party and Samajwadi Party, were in favour of extending the ban to all media, according to the report.

“It is constitutionally incompatible to suggest that an advertisement that could be in violation of electoral norms when broadcast electronically does not attract the same penalties when published in a print newspaper,” the Congress told the panel, according to the Hindustan Times.

The Shiv Sena, an ally of the BJP, said excluding print media from the ambit of Section 126 was a “regulatory anomaly”.

In its response to the committee, the All India Anna Dravida Munnetra Kazhagam suggested extending the 48-hour silent period to 96 hours and restricting websites and WhatsApp groups from posting election-related material during this period. The Samajwadi Party suggested holding single-phase elections in a state to put an end to the broadcast of election-related material.

Voting to elect the 17th Lok Sabha will take place in seven phases between April 11 and May 19. The votes will be counted on May 23. While announcing the dates of the Lok Sabha elections on Sunday, Chief Election Commissioner Sunil Arora had said that the report was pending with the Law Ministry. Arora had specified some guidelines for the use of social media during the elections.

What the committee suggested

The Umesh Sinha Committee has suggested that print, electronic media, WhatsApp, and social media platforms such as Facebook, YouTube and Twitter be brought within the ambit of Section 126 to ensure voters are “not unduly influenced and are afforded a period of reflection to examine their political choice”. It also suggested that the EC should write to all political parties to observe the silent period across all forms of media, reported the Hindustan Times.

According to the report, during the silent period there are “many indirect and direct methods adopted by candidates and political leaders, which may directly or indirectly influence the mind of the voters in favour or against some party/candidate”.

The committee, led by Deputy Election Commissioner Umesh Sinha, included nine officials from several ministries, Broadcasters Association, and Press Council of India.