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Will Zee Tele be an exception to ban on political ads?

NEW DELHI: While most broadcasters are smarting under a ban reiterated by the Election Commission and the government, relating to political advertising on TV channels, Zee Telefilms feels it can be an exception, turning the whole issue into another soap opera.

 

 

Armed with a written permission from the Election Commission on political advertisements, given to it in 2002, Zee Telefilms feels it could go ahead with political ads.

“We have a written permission from the EC itself, allowing us to accept political ads till the time campaigning is allowed before the actual voting. We have carried such ads in the past on Zee News and on Zee TV and hope to do so this time too,” Zee Telefilms vice-chairman Jawahar Goel said.

Though Goel insists that the almost two-year old EC missive to Zee is still enforceable, till the time of writing this report, the legal validity of EC’s 2002 letter could not be properly ascertained.

The EC was not available for immediate comments on Zee’s claims. But legal experts pointed out that if a (favourable) Andhra Pradesh high court ruling on political advertising on TV channels can be bypassed on the ground that the court was not aware of the clauses in the Cable TV (Network) Regulation Act banning political advertising, the 2002 EC letter could also be treated as an aberration.

“Even the EC cannot go against the law of the land and, moreover, the letter with Zee is now quite old to be upheld as implementable now in a changed scenario,” a legal expert told indiantelevision.com, adding, however, that the case needs to be examined further to arrive at some concrete conclusions.

Still, Goel feels that such curbs on the electronic medium would only give rise to more malpractices. “What would EC and the government do if TV channels start selling editorial airtime --- take money for airing the speech of a politician or a candidate --- in cash deals where no documentation is kept?” Goel asked, pointing out that curbs would only lead to “encouraging such deals, which would be a slur on democratic processes.”

CAN GOVT. NOW AMEND RULES?

An interesting question that gets thrown up as the issue of political ads is debated whether the caretaker government could effect amendments in the existing rules and regulations --- may be through an Ordinance --- to facilitate airing of political ads on the telly.

Senior government officials point out that it can be a possibility if the pressure is intense enough for the President to promulgate an ordinance, effecting changes in the CATV Act. But can such a pressure be built up? Officials say that if all political parties make such a demand, then the EC can call for an all-party meet, deliberate on the issue and if there is wide consensus on allowing ads on the telly, request the government to look into the issue.

In such a scenario, the government may recommend to the President promulgation of an executive order in this regard. But the President too has to be fully convinced that such an unprecedented step is justified in the public interest and is of national importance.

The plausibility is there, but fraught with too many ifs and buts.

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