IBF says 'no', govt. 'can't', EC mum

NEW DELHI: It has turned out to be a game of football with everybody concerned attempting to kick the ball out. Even as the Indian Broadcasting Foundation (IBF) in the afternoon took a stand on surrogate political ads, the government in the evening tried wriggling out of the situation saying it cannot take any action as rules don’t get attracted.



The IBF today decided that its 24 member-broadcasters would not entertain any political ad, surrogate or otherwise, which makes a direct and personal attack on any political personality dead or living.

The decision of the IBF has been conveyed to the election regulator, which might have to issue some directive in this regard as the information and broadcasting ministry said that “present provisions of Rule Seven of the Cable TV Network (Regulation) Act are not attracted in the matter in view” of

an order of Andhra Pradesh high court recently.

“The Commission is, therefore, requested to consider regulating these ads under the model code of conduct as these ads are clearly being aired in the context of the ensuing elections,” a communication from I&B ministry to the EC states.

Though the ball seems to have been lobbed back into the EC’s court, the latter can take heart from the fact that broadcasters --- may be egged on by certain section in the government ---are going in for self-restraint. The decision of the IBF has also been conveyed to the Election Commission

through a letter to the chief election commissioner TS Krishnamurthy.

Talking to indiantelevision.com after the decision was taken, IBF’s secretary-general NP Nawani said, “The IBF has decided that with immediate effect, the member broadcasters would refrain from accepting advertisements from any society, trust, political party/ candidate, etc., which contain personal attack on leaders of any political party.”

In case of political discussions, debates and speeches, the editorial control would have to be exercised by the participating leaders themselves, so that certain minimum levels of decency and decorum are maintained on the

electronic media, the IBF has maintained.

Asked by what time surrogate political ads, currently doing the rounds of some news channel, would be taken off the air, Nawani said that it would take some time for the channels to do that, but the member-broadcasters are “committed to do so.” He added, “Hopefully by tomorrow all such ads would

not be seen on any channel.”

When further quizzed what would the IBF do if some channel decides to play truant, especially a non-member like Jaya TV, Nawani was optimistic that the electronic medium would set exemplary standards in self-regulation.

“In case, some body doesn’t follow the advisory, then the IBF board would decide on the future course of action,” Nawani said, adding that, however, in case of non-members like South Indian channel Jaya TV, the Foundation would not be able to do much.

The decision of the IBF has been welcomed by the industry by and large. “Of course, there would be some loss of revenue, but the spirit of democracy demands that we, broadcasters, behave responsibly and don’t become party to

slanging matches between politicians,” Zee Telefilms vice-chairman Jawahar Goel said.

Victory... here I come - Prime Minister AB Vajpayee

The surrogate ads in question, reportedly, have been released by non-governmental organizations having links to politicians. One such ad makes an attack on Congress chief Sonia Gandhi’s foreign origin and the other targets prime minister A B Vajpayee, where he is shown to be allegedly having acted as an informer for the British during pre-Independence days.

The Election Commission, had on Saturday, reverted the issue of political advertisements on the electronic medium back to the information and broadcasting ministry, saying the law was adequate in dealing with the issue. While the EC had directed the government to revert with an action by today, the IBF has taken the lead in dealing with the issue on its own.

Just you wait... - Congress leader Sonia Gandhi

The EC stand had come to the fore after the Andhra Pradesh high court ruling last week, quashing the EC and the government's stand on banning political ads on electronic media. The EC took up the issue of surrogate political advertisements after the Congress lodged a formal complaint with it, saying that some surrogate political ads made a direct attack on Sonia Gandhi.



It is interesting to note the stand that the I&B ministry has taken on the issue of political ads, in particular surrogate ones.

A meeting of the advertising committee, set up by the ministry, took place today where the surrogate ads were discussed in the light whether they flout any provision of the programming and advertising code.

While admitting that one such ad, casting aspersion on Vajpayee, on Aaj Tak “vitiates the level of political debate in the country,” the cleverly worded government missive states that since such ads were originally banned on TV, regulation norms have not been prescribed.

“During its deliberations, the committee noted that the provisions of Rule Seven (of the CATV Act) related to ads for goods and services bring broadcast on the electronic media, as political advertisements were specifically prohibited under Rule 7(3). Due to the ban on political advertisements, no norms have been prescribed for regulating such ads.

“On the other hand, the contents of the two ads viewed by the committee clearly have relevance to the electoral process. The only provision of relevance to these ads was contained in Rule 7 (3), the operation of which has been stayed by the Hon’ble Andhra Pradesh high court in an interim

order on 23 March, 2004,” the government communication states, cleverly evading taking any responsibility.

It has been further stated that under these circumstances, the committee has come to the conclusion that the present Rule 7 “are not attracted by the two ads” and the EC should take a final view on the matter.

Now all eyes would be trained on EC for a directive from it. But can it override a court ruling? The last word is yet to come on the issue.

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