The Election Commission of India has informed the Bombay High Court that a code of conduct regarding regulation of political advertisements on social media is being evolved in consultation with the IAMAI (Internet and Mobile Association of India) and intermediaries i.e., social networking sites.
EC's counsel Pradeep Rajagopal submitted the affidavit before the bench of Chief justice NH Patil and Justice NM Jamdar. The affidavit was filed in a PIL seeking directions to the Election Commission of India (ECI) to prohibit all persons from posting sponsored advertisements that are political in nature 48 hours before polling day.
Earlier, Google and Facebook had filed their affidavits in response to the said PIL.
The EC's affidavit, available with LiveLaw, states that directions sought in the petition are not required as the Election Commission is already taking steps and holding consultations to evolve the regulation of political ads on social media.
"Currently this process of consultation is ongoing and the answering Respondent is undertaking consultations with intermediaries as well as civil society associations like IAMAI and it may take some more time for a concrete mechanism/code to emerge," the affidavit states.
It is to be noted that social media platforms and other social networking sites are being referred to as intermediaries.
Certain amendments to the Representation of the People Act, 1951, were suggested by a committee appointed by the EC under the chairmanship of Umesh Sinha, Senior Deputy Election Commissioner. The committee reiterated the recommendation made by the Law Commission in its 255th report to include both print, electronic media and intermediaries within the scope of Section 126 of the Act to ensure that voters are not unduly influenced and are afforded a period of reflection to examine their political choices.
Apart from this, following recommendations were made-
However, it was pointed out by the petitioner's counsel Dr. Abhinav Chandrachud, that none of the intermediaries were willing to observe the 48-hour deadline. The court asked the EC as to why no specific orders have been passed in order to prohibit ads during the blackout period. To this, Rajagopal submitted that there was no provision empowering the ECI to impose restrictions on social media during the blackout period. He reiterated that bringing intermediaries within the purview of Section 126 would facilitate the process.
This matter will now come up for hearing on March 15.