15 Dec 2017
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SC says no to ministers’ pictures in govt ads in the media

MUMBAI: The Supreme Court has put a ban on using pictures of ministers in government advertisements and observed that only photographs of the President, Prime Minister and the Chief Justice of India should feature in government-sponsored ads in the media.

The court imposed strict curbs on ‘politically motivated’ ads in the media by the government and leaders, which are issued at the cost of public funds.

It said that even the pictures of the three dignitaries should be used only with their approval. The court, however, allowed the use of pictures of late leaders like Mahatma Gandhi and Jawaharlal Nehru.

A bench headed by Justice Ranjan Gogoi and NV Ramana also asked the central government to constitute a three-member committee to regulate the issue of public advertisements.

The judgment was issued in response to a petition filed by lawyer-activist Prashant Bhushan, who sought strict rules to check the misuse of taxpayers’ money by those in power.

Stating that restrictions were not required against publication of ads on the eve of elections, the bench said that it hoped the government would adhere to all the directives issued by it.

It noted that there was no legislation on the matter and the apex court could only issue directives in this regard.

The judgment came on the basis of a series of recommendations given by a committee led by noted legal academician NS Madhava Menon.

The committee was formed in April 2014 on a PIL filed by NGO Common Cause, which had argued that ruling party leaders and ministers were taking undue advantage at public expenses.

The Menon panel had recommended a complete ban on publishing photos in the ads. It had further said that no ads should be allowed on the eve of election.

The NGOs had highlighted numerous full-page advertisements in newspapers and repeated ads on TV by the central and state governments and their agencies, which projected political personalities and proclaimed the achievements of the ruling party at the expense of the public exchequer.

The ad campaigns included the ‘India shining’ campaign of the NDA government trumpeting its achievements and the media campaign of Tamil Nadu Chief Minister Jayalalithaa on the completion of her terms in office.

The Centre said that public ads were essential for disseminating information regarding government programmes and initiatives and that Directorate of Advertising and Visual Publicity (DAVP) guidelines were good enough to deal with the issue. The court had agreed with the Centre that such ads were a mode of communication, but pointed out various advertisements that did not disclose any information but only glorified a particular government.

The apex court accepted all major recommendations of the committee in this regard. However, it rejected the plea of the central government that judiciary should not intervene in policy decisions and said that the courts can step in if there is no policy or law in place.

Based on these recommendations, the SC has now issued substantive guidelines to the central and state governments and their agencies such as the DAVP and state information departments.

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