Elections And The Airwaves


  • Political parties had free airtime during the recently concluded Karnataka Assembly elections on public broadcasters All India Radio (Akashvani) and Doordarshan.
  • To avoid any preferential treatment in obtaining primetime slots, the Election Commission distributes time vouchers transparently using a lottery mechanism.
  • Political party transcripts are examined to make sure they follow all applicable rules. Any content that, among other things, criticises other nations, disparages religions or other communities, or incites violence and personal attacks is prohibited under these guidelines.

Points to Ponder:

  • Legislative Basis: The 2003 amendment to the Representation of People Act, of 1951 is the legal foundation for the free airtime given to political parties during elections. This provides the plan with a solid legal basis.
  • Rationale: The plan is justified by the knowledge that radio waves belong to the public and should only be used for the benefit of everyone. It strives to ensure fair access to the media and prohibit the abuse or misuse of airwaves to obtain an undue election advantage.
  • Democratic Importance: Elections are thought to be the heart and soul of a democracy. Political parties can reach a larger audience and spread their thoughts, policies, and manifestos by being given free airtime, which encourages voters to make educated decisions.
  • International Examples: To guarantee fair airtime for political parties during elections, several nations, including the United States, the United Kingdom, Singapore, Brazil, and Japan, have similar programmes or legislation.
  • For instance, the Federal Communications Commission, which oversees the nation’s electronic media, developed the fairness concept to maintain equality in electioneering on the airwaves in the United States. The now-defunct fairness doctrine imposed a duty on broadcasters to offer the same treatment to rival candidates in the election if they feature political content from one candidate on their programmes.
  • Political parties are given specified intervals by Parliament in the UK as well, known as party political broadcasts (PPBs), to notify the public of crucial political information. PPBs must be present on all licenced public service television channels and commercial radio services, according to the British communication regulator Ofcom. 
  • Workings of the Scheme: Public broadcasters like All India Radio (Akashvani) and Doordarshan allot a set amount of airtime to recognised national and state parties in India. The distribution is based on a base time and additional slots are chosen based on the polling results of the parties.
  • Transparent Distribution: The Election Commission of India (ECI) uses a lottery approach to allocate time vouchers to parties. This makes sure that everyone receives the same opportunity for distribution without bias or special treatment.
  • Content Vetting: The transcripts of political parties’ content are reviewed for compliance with applicable codes as part of the content vetting process. These regulations forbid the publication of anything that is disparaging of other nations, disparaging of communities or religions, inciting violence, or involving personal attacks. The goal is to uphold a standard of decency and refrain from violating it.
  • Apex Committee: In cases of disagreement about the content that has been reviewed, a panel made up of representatives from Doordarshan and Akashvani takes the final judgement. This committee guarantees an objective review procedure and settles disputes when they occur.
  • Benefits to Political Parties: Political parties profit from the programme by having a platform to reach a larger audience through public broadcasters, which are seen as neutral and devoid of private ownership bias. It enables parties, particularly smaller ones, to present their platforms, participate in discussions, and increase their visibility during elections.
  • Equitable Access: The programme strives to promote equitable access to the airwaves by offering free time, and encouraging a level playing field for political parties of various sizes and beliefs. Major parties are less likely to dominate, and it allows smaller parties to have an active role in the electoral process.
  • Challenges: The plan does encounter certain operational difficulties. The limitation only applies to national and recognised state parties, according to critics, which may not be genuinely equitable. To give a more diversified platform, there are calls for expanding the provision to include private broadcasters. Making a more representative group may also be necessary to address conflicts of interest within the Apex group.
  • Setting Standards: By employing the media to support fair, well-informed, and serious debates during elections, the plan seeks to strengthen and advance Indian democracy. It establishes a benchmark for other electoral democracies to meet and guarantees that media electioneering preserve democratic ideals.