ISLAMABAD: The Election Commission of Pakistan (ECP) has placed a complete ban on exit and entrance polls including those on official digital media accounts of print and electronic media outlets as well as social media influencers.

In a code of conduct for the upcoming general polls shrouded by mystery, the ECP has also barred any kind of surveys at any polling station or constituency that may influence voters’ free choice of casting vote.

An exit poll is an opinion of voters leaving polling stations, asking how they voted. Similarly, an entrance poll is conducted before people enter polling stations to cast vote.

The code of conduct for general elections bars print, electronic and digital media from running campaigns of candidates and political parties at the cost of public exchequer. “If any print, electronic and digital media platform accepts paid political advertisement from a candidate or a political party, it shall provide details of expenditure made by political party or candidate to ECP as per law,” the code stated.

During election campaign, according to the code of conduct, the content floated on print, electronic and digital media, shall not reflect any opinion prejudicial to the ideology, sovereignty, uprightness or security of Pakistan, public order or the integrity and independence of the judiciary of Pakistan. “Allegations and statements which may harm national solidarity or may create a law-and-order situation during election campaign and on polling day shall be strictly avoided on print and electronic media and by any media person, newspaper and channel operating official account on digital media and other social media influencers,” it declared.

It stated the content on print and electronic media, any media person, newspaper, channel operating official accounts on digital media and social media influencers shall not include any aspect that might be construed as personal attack on candidates or political parties on basis of gender, religion, sect, caste, baradari etc. In case of violation, the victim may complain and take legal action on appropriate forum. “If a candidate makes an allegation against another candidate, media should seek comments from both the sides,” it reminded media professionals.

The ECP through the code of conduct assigned the Pakistan Electronic Media Regulatory Authority (Pemra), Pakistan Telecom­munication Authority (PTA), Press Information Depart­ment (PID), Cyber Wing and Digital Media Wing of the Ministry of Information and Broadcasting (MoIB) with the task to monitor the coverage given to political parties and candidates for their election campaigns through electronic channels, print and social media.

These authorities will also be required to submit to the commission details of payments made by the political parties and candidates within 10 days after poll day, and provide at any time, any information required by ECP in discharge of its duties.

Under the code, the government, particularly the law enforcing agencies, will be required to provide protection to media persons, and media houses to maintain their freedom of expression.

It also asked journalists, print, electric and digital media, social media influencers and media houses to launch civic and voter inclusive education programmes, especially targeting marginalised groups such as women, transgenders, youth, minorities and differently abled persons throughout the election period to maximize voters’ turnout and ensure their participation in electoral process.

According to the code of conduct, the accredited media persons shall be allowed to enter a polling station (along with camera) only once for making footage of the voting process, but they shall ensure secrecy of the ballot and not make footage of the screened off compartment.

On the other hand, media personnel shall be allowed to observe the counting process. During coverage of polling process, media persons shall not obstruct directly or indirectly any pre-election, election, and post-election process. Also, the media shall not air any unofficial result of a polling station till an hour after the end of voting. The broadcasters airing results afterwards would do so with clear disclaimer that these were unofficial, incomplete, and fractional results. In case of any violation, the ECP may recommend the authorities concerned for taking appropriate action.

The ECP also made it clear that it reserved the right to withdraw accreditation of an individual journalist/media organisation in case of violation of the code of conduct. The authority to determine the violation also rests with the ECP, the code of conduct added.

Published in Dawn, August 15th, 2023

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