New Delhi: With public relations (PR) firms being used by political parties to shape public opinion online, the Election Commission (EC) is formulating a social media policy to address the issue.
The use of PR firms to shape public opinion on the social media was flagged by election commissioner O.P. Rawat. “It has come to the notice of the commission that paid operators run by PR firms are being actively deployed to shape public opinion online," he said.
With increasing spread of mobile Internet technology, the influence of social media was also increasing and it was high time that it was recognised as media and its content was monitored, he added.
“I’m happy to state that the ECI is formulating its social media policy and we are hopeful that it is likely to address such issues," he added.
Addressing a consultation on electoral and political reforms organised by the Association for Democratic Reforms on Thursday, Rawat also hit out at the political class, saying winning today was more important without consideration of ethics.
“Democracy thrives when elections are free, fair and transparent. However, it appears to a cynical common man that we have been scripting a narrative that places maximum premium on winning at all costs to the total exclusion of ethical considerations.
“In this narrative, poaching of legislators is extolled as smart political management; strategic introduction of money for allurement, tough-minded use of state machinery for intimidation, etc, are all commended as resourcefulness," he said.
Rawat remarks came just days after the political drama in Gujarat ended.
The EC had invalidated votes of two Congress MLAs during the Rajya Sabha polls for violating secrecy norms, and the Congress’ Ahmed Patel had won narrowly.
Rawat said under the new narrative “the winner can commit no sin. A defector crossing over to the ruling camp stands cleansed of all the guilt as also possible criminality".
He said it was this “creeping new normal of political morality" that should be the target for “exemplary action" by all political parties, politicians, media, civil society organisations, constitutional authorities and all those having faith in democratic polity for “a better election, a better tomorrow."
The election commissioner also expressed his fears on “policy capture" where a winning candidate helped his political donors by taking decisions, in office, favourable to them.
He said although money was necessary for political parties and candidates, experience had shown that there was a “real and present risk" that some parties and candidates, once in office, would be more responsive to the interests of a particular group of donors rather than to wider public interest.
“Policy capture occurs when the interests of a narrow group dominate those of other stakeholders to the benefit of that narrow group," he said.
He reiterated the commission’s objections to the electoral bonds introduced by the government, saying it might lead to the use of black money in electoral politics.
Rawat said the recent amendments in election and income tax laws make it clear that any donation received by a political party through an electoral bond had been taken out of the ambit of reporting in the contribution report which political parties have to submit to the EC. He said the implications of this step could be retrograde as far as transparency was concerned.
“Furthermore, where contributions received through electoral bonds are not reported, a perusal of contribution reports will not make it clear whether the party in question has taken any donations in violation of Section 29B of the Representation of People Act, which prohibits political parties from taking donations from government companies and foreign sources," he added.
He also said the poll panel had expressed apprehension that the abolition of the relevant provisions of the Companies Act of removing a cap of 7.5% of profit for political donations could lead to money laundering by setting up of shell companies for diverting funds for donations to parties.