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Karunanidhi opposes SC rule against ban of politicians’ pictures in govt ads

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NEW DELHI: DMK chief and former Tamil Nadu chief minister M Karunanidhi has lashed out at the Supreme Court’s ban on the photos of politicians in government ads.

The veteran politician has said that this takes away the rights of the states.

He was quoted in media reports as saying, “The PM and CMs are of same status in a federal set-up. In states, people give more importance to the CMs than the PM. A picture of a CM is inevitable in state govt advertisements. There are few educated people. The pictures help people understand ads better.”

Holding that taxpayers' money cannot be spent to build "personality cults" of political leaders, the Supreme Court restrained ruling parties from publishing photographs of political leaders or prominent persons in government-funded advertisements.

The Court said such photos divert attention from the policies of the government, unnecessarily associate an individual with a government project, and pave the way for cultivating a "personality cult."

A bench of Justices Ranjan Gogoi and N.V. Ramana said the photos of only three constitutional authorities – the Prime Minister, the President and the Chief Justice of India - can be used in such ads. However, the personal approval of these three authorities will be necessary before publication.

The observations of the Court were based on examination of the findings of a Committee led by Bangalore's National Law University Director N.S. Madhava Menon set up in May last year, which had submitted its report in October. The Committee was set up by the Information and Broadcasting Ministry pursuant to an order of 23 April last year. Other members were former Lok Sabha secretary general T K Vishwanathan, and senior advocate Ranjit Kumar. Bimal Julka, secretary in the I&B Ministry, was the member secretary of the Committee.

The court passed the order on a public interest litigation (PIL) filed by the NGOs Common Cause represented by counsel Meera Bhatia and the Centre for Public Interest Litigation (CPIL) represented by advocate Prashant Bhushan pleading it to frame guidelines.

The petitions sought issuance of guidelines for curbing ruling parties from taking political mileage by projecting their leaders in official advertisements.

The Menon panel had recommended a complete ban on publishing of photos in the ads. It had further said that no ads should be allowed on election eve.

However, Justice Gogoi made changes in four cases. Instead of a complete ban on publishing of photos of all individuals, it said pictures of PM, President and CJI can be used provided they personally clear it - thus, in a way, making them also accountable for the publication.

Secondly, the court improvised on the Menon committee recommendations to direct the government to appoint a three-member Ombudsman body of persons with "unimpeachable integrity."

The bench disagreed with the panel's suggestion for a performance audit on such government ads.

Holding that there had been "misuse and abuse" of public money on such advertisements, the three-member committee headed by eminent academician Professor Menon had framed guidelines to regulate expenditure and contents of such ads.

The report had said only pictures and names of the President, the Prime Minister, Governor and Chief Ministers be published.

The apex court bench had then said that the existing guidelines of the Directorate of Advertising and Visual Publicity (DAVP) do not cover such ads. There was therefore a need for substantive guidelines to be issued by the Court until the legislature enacts a law in this regard.

The three members of the committee recommended that the governments must prepare a list of personalities whose birth or death anniversaries will be marked with ads in advance.

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 committee said that its recommendations are to prevent "the arbitrary use of public funds for advertising... to project particular personalities, parties or governments without any attendant public interest."

As was reported earlier by Indiantelevision.com, the move is likely to impact the revenues of some media groups as television channels will no longer be able to run TVCs by state governments featuring Chief Ministers and other local political leaders.

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