To stop “mudslinging” by parties during the elections, the Supreme Court today banned telecast of all political advertisements, which offend the “morality, decency and religious susceptibility” of viewers, on television channels and cable networks and asked the Election Commission to monitor them.
Nullifying an Andhra Pradesh High Court order which allowed airing of political advertisements, a three-judge Bench comprising Chief Justice VN Khare, Justice SB Sinha and Justice SH Kapadia accepted the submission of Attorney-General Soli J Sorabjee in putting in force a ban on “political mudslinging” thro-ugh surrogate advertisements.
Saying that “we are in the midst of watching a great cri-cket series and we do not want it to be substituted by political mudslinging”, the court asked cable networks and TV channels not to air any political advertisement that was “shocking, disgusting and revolting”.
In an interesting twist, the court also sought the Election Commission’s response by Monday whether the money spent on advertisements by candidates for the election could be included in his poll expenses, which has been limited to Rs 25 lakh for Lok Sabha constituency and Rs 10 lakh for Assembly seats.
The Bench issued notice to Gemini TV, on whose writ petition the AP High Court had stayed rule 7(3) of the Cable TV Network rules, 1994, on the ground that it was against the fundamental right of a person to carry on any business.
Welcoming the apex court order, the Congress asked the poll panel to evolve a code of conduct to restrain print as well as electronic media from publicising “personalised attacks”.
Congress spokesman Kapil Sibal said the media should avoid carrying personalised attacks which vitiated the electoral atmosphere. On the surrogate advertisements, Sibal said the apex court had said that it was for the poll panel to decide.
The Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) called for formulation of guidelines on the contents of such publicity material.
“The BJP welcomes the verdict. We have been advocating that the campaign should be based on programmes, policies and achievements. Unfortunately, the Congress has always deviated from them due to bankruptcy of issues,” party spokesman Mukhtar Abbas Naqvi said.
“The people found the Congress advertisements unacceptable. There should be a code of conduct or guidelines on what should be the content of such advertisements and what should not be,” he said.
On March 23, hearing a petition filed by Gemini Television Network, ETV and Maa TV, challenging the rule 7(3) of the Act invoked by the information and broadcasting ministry and the Election Commission to stop political advertisements, the Andhra Pradesh High Court had quashed the ban.
But the broadcasting industry viewed this as a missed opportunity for them and losses are expected to be in the region of Rs 100 crore.
After the high court order channels had initiated talks with political parties. “We were in talks with political parties before the poll panel had come out with order. The talks had started against after the high court order,” said an executive of a leading television channel.
According to the industry sources, the channels had also started to work with various political parties in preparing promotions as well as campaigns. According to them, political parties have also kicked off the process of directing their media cells to work with channels in preparing the creative.