The Telegraph
Since 1st March, 1999
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Centre lobs Sonia spots ball in EC court

New Delhi, March 29: The ding-dong battle between the poll panel and the information and broadcasting ministry over the controversial Sonia Gandhi spots on television continues, with the ministry throwing the ball back into the panel’s court.

On a Congress complaint, the Election Commission had on Saturday directed the ministry to take “appropriate” action against channels airing spots of a “slanderous nature” on Sonia Gandhi’s origin. The ministry was asked to take a decision by Monday evening.

The ministry has now asked the commission to consider if these advertisements defy the code of conduct for the elections. Simply put, the ministry believes it is up to the commission to take the final decision.

The election commission had pointed out that the ministry was the competent authority to take action on ads that come within the purview of the advertisement code, which is part of the Cable Television Network Rules.

The advertising committee under the Cable Television Network Regulation Act today discussed the issue, under the chairmanship of additional secretary Vijay Singh.

It has concluded that the provisions of Rule 7 of the Cable Television Network Rules, 1994, do not apply because Andhra Pradesh High Court had stayed the order and said that political ads on television should be allowed.

The committee noted the contents of the ads placed by the Kamakshi Education Society as well as another issued by Saajhi Viraasat Trust, casting aspersions on Prime Minister Atal Bihari Vajpayee, were both of a political nature and designed to sway the electorate.

The committee, taking a very narrow view of the rules, discussed at length the contents of the two ads in the light of Rule 7 of the Cable Television Network Rules, 1994.

The ministry said the provisions of Rule 7 related to ads for goods and services being broadcast on the electronic media as political ads were specifically prohibited under Rule 7 (3) of the act.

Due to the ban on political ads, no regulations have been prescribed for them.

The I&B ministry has, therefore, requested the Election Commission to consider regulating these ads under the model code of conduct.

At the same time, the Indian Broadcasting Foundation has decided that the member broadcasters would refrain with immediate effect from accepting ads from any society, trust, political party or candidate which contains a personal attack on any leaders of any party.

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

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