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EC bans poll-related ads on television

28-February-2004
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EC bans poll-related ads on television

After the NDA government’s launch of ‘India Shining’ campaigns, the Election Commission (EC) has barred political parties from advertising on television. Although the EC decree would cover all political parties and television channels, the ruling party is understood to have had its say already. But, information and broadcasting minister Ravi Shankar Prasad said ‘India Shining’ was not a political or election-related ad. He added that the ruling party would adhere to the EC directive of not airing political /election-related ads. Public broadcaster Doordarshan would also comply with the order, he said. However, monitoring the ads would be a tricky issue, sources in the government said.

A senior government official clarified that a political ad is one which says “vote for such and such party....” Also, as ‘India Shining’ is a government-backed initiative, it would be withdrawn once moral code of conduct is in place.

Interestingly, the Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) was planning a major TV bash (read election campaign), targeted at the youth, on MTV and Channel V. Also, e-campaign is being promoted for ads on TV, internet, mobile phones and radio. On whether political ads can be carried on internet and mobile phones, Mr Prasad refused to comment.

Meanwhile, broadcasters are upset with the EC directive, and are planning to take up the issue through the Indian Broadcasting Foundation (IBF). On the condition of anonymity, a broadcaster said, “we were expecting a windfall.” According to an IBF official, the Foundation is writing to the EC saying that there shouldn’t be any discrimination between print and electronic media.

Advertising Agencies Association of India (AAAI) president Sam Balsara said, “it’s an unfair step as far as the Opposition is concerned, because it allows the ruling party to use television to reach out to 80 million homes in the guise of the government’s achievements and denies the other parties to have their say to the same 80 million homes.”

According to Grey Worldwide national creative director Pratap Suthan, there are two ways of looking at this verdict. “For one, this ban ensures that there’s no unsafe advertising that happens otherwise. On the negative side, your freedom of expression gets curtailed.” He added, “ideally, they should set up a panel to clear the content of every political ad that’s released. In fact, it’ll serve as a censor board to sustain the quality of ads.”

BJP MP Kirit Somaiya only said, “guidelines and code of conduct need to be developed for the visual media before such ads are permitted on TV.”

In a communication to the I&B ministry, the EC said that it has “decided that rule 7(3) of the cable TV networks rules, 1994 prescribed under Section 6 (advertisement code) of the cable TV networks (regulation) Act, 1995 which prohibits ads on cable TV networks of political nature or towards any political end should continue to be on the statute book”.

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