The UNP yesterday alleged that the Elections Secretariat had failed to implement its guidelines, as regards media coverage given to political parties, in the run-up to the forthcoming elections to North-Central, Sabaragamuwa and Eastern Provincial Council elections. Friday’s live telecast of ‘Janapathi Janahamuwa’, by both State-run and privately owned television stations, violated a key guideline, Deputy Secretary General of the UNP Dr. Jayalath Jayawardena said in an interview with The Island yesterday.
Now that the Elections Secretariat had allowed the telecasting of an almost three-hour-long programme, it should explore the possibility of facilitating a similar live telecast for the Opposition, the Gampaha District MP said.
Asked whether he opposed media coverage given to President Mahinda Rajapaksa and a section of his Cabinet, to respond to issues of national importance, Jayawardena said he didn’t object to the presidential coverage but it had to conform to the election laws. “The issue is that the Opposition is deprived of equal opportunity to address the people. The Elections Secretariat should explain its position.” He said the programme had focused on districts going to the polls on Sept. 8. The Election Secretariat on July 25, 2012 had directed all print and electronic media to abide by a 19-point code to ensure free and fair elections. According to the guidelines issued by Elections Commissioner Mahinda Deshapriya, the media coverage given to the President and Prime Minister should be treated as coverage for the political party to which they belong and therefore leaders of political parties contesting elections should be given equal coverage in all programmes. The private media, too, should similarly provide equal space and priority to all contesting political parties and independent groups, the guideline say.
The Polls Chief is on record as having said that guidelines were imposed in line with 17th and 18th Amendments to the Constitution to ensure a level playing field.
“The Election Secretariat owes us an explanation,” Dr. Jayawardena said, accusing the election monitoring groups of failing to take up the issue with the Election Secretariat. Asked whether the Election Secretariat had received any complaints from polls monitoring groups, Rizan Hameed, Coordinating Officer at the Election Secretariat, said that he would have to make inquiries.
Dr. Jayawardena said that a free and fair election could not be ensured simply by removing posters and deploying police. He pointed out that over one sixth of Rs. 600 million allocated for the Sept. 8 election would be utilized by the police to removal election propaganda material (Rs. 7.3 mn as revealed by Election Secretariat) and police operations (Rs 100 mn), whereas the media was allowed to manipulate the campaign in support of the ruling coalition.
Dr. Jayawardena urged the Elections Secretariat to ensure that its guidelines were followed by the media. He said that the Elections Secretariat shouldn’t issue guidelines if it didn’t intend to implement them.
By Shamindra Ferdinando