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SC Panel announces guidelines for govt ads

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NEW DELHI: A Supreme Court-appointed high- powered committee recently announced guidelines on government advertisements in order to prevent misuse of public funds for furthering political motives.

The guidelines recommend that names and pictures of political parties and their office bearers should be not mentioned in government advertisements.

The report, submitted to the apex court, also emphasises that only pictures and names of the President, the Prime Minister, Governor and Chief Ministers be published to ‘keep politics away from such ads’.

The guidelines have been framed by a three-member committee headed by eminent academician Professor NR Madhava Menon to regulate expenditure and contents of such advertisements paid out of tax payers' money. The committee also comprises of former secretary general of Lok Sabha TK Viswanathan and solicitor general Ranjit Kumar. The apex court had decided to frame these guidelines on 23 April to prevent the misuse of public money.

The apex court bench headed by chief justice P Sathasivam with justice Ranjan Gogoi and N V Ramana had said that the existing guidelines of the Directorate of Advertising and Visual Publicity (DAVP) do not cover such advertisements. There was therefore a need for substantive guidelines to be issued by the Court until the legislature enacts a law in this regard.

The report also added that the committee has included suggestions of the Election Commission about severe restrictions on such advertisements six months prior to elections.

It further endorsed that a deadline should be fixed for prohibiting their publication and the poll panel should be authorised for the purpose.

The report recommended that the central and state governments must decide in advance on a list of personalities whose birth or death anniversaries will be marked with ads.

The government must then specify which Ministry should release the ad to avoid different departments and state-run companies from paying tribute to the same leader with a multitude of ads. "There should be a single advertisement only," the Committee said.

The Bench had also noted that the Directorate of Advertisement and Visual Publicity (DAVP) guidelines do not lay down any criteria for the advertisements to qualify for public purpose as opposed to partisan ends and political mileage, adding that there is a need to distinguish between the advertisements that are part of government messaging and daily business and advertisements that are politically motivated.

The Government in its counter affidavit claimed that 60 per cent of the advertisements released by the DAVP on behalf of various ministries/departments/public sector undertakings of the Central Government relate to classified or display/classified category such as UPSC/SSC or recruitment, tender and public notices, etc. The respondents asserted that government advertisements sometime carry messages from national leaders, ministers and dignitaries accompanied with their photographs.

However, Government counsel K Radhakrishnan said the purpose of such advertisements is not to give personal publicity to the leaders or to the political parties they belong to rather the objective is to let the people know and have authentic information about the progress of the programmes/performance of the government they elected and form informed opinions, which is one of the fundamental rights of the citizens in our democracy as enshrined in the constitution.

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