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Big-Ticket Polls on the Calendar, EC to Hire Private Firm to Track Media Coverage of Itself

People walk past the Election Commission of India office building in New Delhi. (REUTERS/Adnan Abidi/File Photo)

People walk past the Election Commission of India office building in New Delhi. (REUTERS/Adnan Abidi/File Photo)

The agency will also track news coverage of electoral processes in different states and generate periodic sentiment analysis reports, categorising the coverage into positive, negative and neutral.

With as many as five state elections around the corner, the Election Commission is looking to hire a private agency to track the print, television, digital and social media space for coverage of issues concerning the electoral processes and the poll watchdog itself. The agency will prepare feedback reports based on its findings.

Sources in the government said this is the first time that the Election Commission is hiring a separate agency to monitor media coverage. A Request for Proposal (RFP) to this effect has been floated by the public sector undertaking Broadcast Engineering Consultants India limited (BECIL), which comes under the Ministry of Information and Broadcasting. Eligible firms will have to send in their bids by November 30.

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As per the RFP, the agency will have to closely track all major print, television and online media, alongside social media platforms and the foreign press on the coverage of the Election Commission and the poll processes in different states. Based on this coverage, it will have to generate periodic sentiment analysis reports, categorising the news reports or the opinion pieces into positive, negative and neutral. This analysis can also be based on certain keywords put forth by the EC.

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Additionally, the firm will be required to create an interactive dashboard for all platforms, where all such related content will be uploaded and can also throw up real-time notifications on poll-related developments.

Why is such an agency needed

The Election Commission’s efforts to gain feedback over its decisions and other poll-related matters come in the backdrop of Uttar Pradesh, Punjab, Uttarakhand Goa and Manipur going to polls in the first half of next year.

The poll watchdog in the past had drawn criticism from different corners for its stand on alleged violations of electoral processes.

Sheyphali Sharan, a spokesperson for the EC, told News18 that the reason the poll body would want to hire its own agency is because it needs timely feedback from the ground, especially from poll-bound states. She said the list of publications or channels, including regional channels, will need to be tailored as per the EC’s requirements.

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“The list would change periodically as per the states going to polls and it is not feasible to meet the EC’s requirements with the standard list of the Press Information Bureau,” she said.

She said ministries like the MEA have feedback agencies exclusively suited to their requirements and the EC also felt the need to have a specific agency tailored to its needs.

Earlier this year, the Election Commission sought from the Madras High Court an order to stop the media on reporting on oral observations during hearing of cases related to elections. The Madras High Court had refused to entertain the petition. Subsequently, the Supreme Court had also declined a plea made by the EC on reporting of certain remarks made by the Madras High Court.

How the agency will function

The firm is expected to scan major national and vernacular newspapers and magazines, monitor national and regional television news channels on reportage of issues concerning the EC and electoral processes. Based on this, it will have to prepare daily sentiment analysis reports for the EC, summarising the reports and categorising them to positive, negative or neutral. It will also be required to flag the names of the authors of reports and flag state-specific concerns, if any.

It will also closely track news about the EC and the poll processes across digital platforms, including online news portals, blogs, international magazines, and social media, and use a good industry standard tool to prepare the perception reports.

For online news platforms, the feedback would include coverage of relevant news published and also on social media posts by major influencers, including journalists and politicians. As per the EC’s requirement, the agency will have to submit such reports multiple times during election season.

The agency will have to set up a dashboard where all news monitored will be available on a password-protected web portal. The portal must be capable of providing notifications in real-time and should facilitate creating dossiers of the print news items and provide links for online and social media coverage for easy access.

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first published:November 25, 2021, 15:40 IST