EC considers possibility of pre-censoring political ads

NEW DELHI: An assurance has not come from the government, but the Supreme Court today sought to allay fears of the Election Commission on lack of adequate infrastructure and manpower to monitor political advertising on television.

The assurance came after EC sought time till Thursday to put in place a mechanism for monitoring of ads on various TV channels. The EC has also submitted to the court that would be going in for a sort of pre-censorship whereby any material to be aired has to be cleared by the EC or its officials.

According to agency reports, addressing a three-judge bench, comprising Chief Justice V N Khare and Justices SB Sinha and SH Kapadia, counsel for EC, KK Venugopal, said that the Commission would be facing an enormous task considering the fact that there were 53 private TV hannels, 33,000 cable operators and 10 major multi-service cable operators in the country.

At this point the apex court is understood to have said that the Commission would be ensured all possible help from the necessary quarters.

''We want fair play. We do not want one party or one leader to indulge in personal attacks on another. This is not democracy. We will make it an electoral offence if the attack is personal,'' agency reports quoted the Chief Justice of India as saying.

Venugopal also submitted that the Commission would have to monitor six national political parties, 45 recognised regional parties and 702 registered but unrecognized parties who have to use the symbols in the forthcoming Lok Sabha (Lower House) and assembly elections.

He also said that Commission had to monitor over 5,000 candidates for the 543 Lok Sabha seats in addition to assembly seats in four states going to the polls, news agencies reported.

According to reports, the Chief Justice, while assuring the Commission of providing all assistance in its tasks, indicated that the court would make telecast of political ads found not in conformity of the law of the land and

making personal attacks on political leaders an electoral offence.

Regarding inclusion of the expenses on the telecast of ads on TV channels in the expenditure of the candidates, Venugopal said that the earlier provision in this regard in the Representation of the People's Act had been deleted by an amendment in 2003.

He wanted the court to address this aspect as well in its order to be passed on Thursday.

The Supreme Court was reacting on the issue of political ads after the information and broadcasting ministry had moved the court last week seeking a stop on surrogate political ads attacking a personality and also staying of an Andhra Pradesh high court order that had given the go-aheads for political ads on the electronic medium.

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, had quashed the ban.

It would be interesting to see how political parties, especially the Bharatiya Janata Party, react to the EC suggestion on having any material to be aired on television as part of paid political advertisement or message cleared by it 10 days in advance from the date of airing.

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