Court ruling on political ads may be contested

NEW DELHI: The Indian government is contemplating contensting the Andhra Pradesh high court order quashing a ban on political advertisements on the electronic medium. Reason: to douse the fire that has engulfed not only Congress chief Sonia Gandhi, but also Prime Minister Atal B. Vajpayee.

According to political sources in the Capital, the govermnent is mulling, as one of the options, to go in for a Special Leave Petition (SLP) petitoning the Supreme Court to look into the issue of politcal advertisments, surrogate or otherwise, on television channels.

A The sources said that a high-level meeting in this regard was held at the Prime Ministers residence yesterday where this matter was debated.

It is also learnt that Vajpayee, while expressing his unhappiness at being target of a surrogate advertisment questioning his antecendents during the pre-Independence days, would want the issue to be buried. An ideal scenario would be to have the Supreme Court stay the order of the Andhra high court, which removes the ban on political ads to be carried o TV channels under the Cable TV Network (Regulation) Act.

Amongst the several options discussed, the most plausible looked like the one where the government or an organisation contested the Andhra HC order.

Those who attended the meeting with the PM included his advisor Brajesh Misra, information and broadcasting minister Ravi Shankar Prasad, Solicitor-General Soli Sorabjee and Bharatiya Janata Party president Venkaiah Naidu.

On 23 March, the Andhra HC, based on a petition filed by Gemini Television Network, ETV and Maa TV which challenged rule 7 (3) of the Act invoked by the Information and Broadcasting Ministry and Election Commission to ban telecast of political advertisements, quashed the ban.

The court also observed that the ban order amounted to discrimination between the two media (print and electronic) and was also violative of the right to freedom of trade and business.

Since the order was passed, the issue has snowballed into a controversy with the Election Commissiona nd the government lobbing the ball into each others court.

The issue of surrogate political advertisements is echoing not in the Election Commission or on TV channels, but somewhere else. The reverberations of personal attacks can be heard in the Prime Ministers residence. Apparently, according to political sources, PM Atal B Vajpayee is very upset that an ad allegedly showing him in bad light did a round of TV channels before broadcasters decided to take all such ads off air.

Stung by a surrogate ad put out by a Bharatiya Janata Party front organization questioning party chief Sonia Gandhis foreign origin, a seemingly front organization of the Congress hit back by issuing an ad that dwelt on Vajpayees antecedents and that he was allegedly involved as an informant for the British during the pre-Independence days of India.

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