The Telegraph
Since 1st March, 1999
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Govt can shine, parties cannot

New Delhi, Feb. 27: What the government can, parties cannot.

The Election Commission today banned poll-related advertisements by political parties on both private and government television channels and even on radio. This means while the government can carry on with its India Shining advertisement blitz, the Opposition cannot use the electronic media to campaign.

The poll panel’s order makes an implicit distinction between the achievements of the government and advertisements by political parties. As the India Shining campaign in the print and audio-visual media falls in the category of government achievements, it can continue till the model code of conduct for the polls comes into force.

The code of conduct becomes effective from the day the commission announces the schedule for the Lok Sabha polls. But as the poll panel’s order is not linked to the model code of conduct, it comes into force immediately.

The order, issued in consultation with the information and broadcasting ministry, prohibits advertisements of “political nature” or “towards any political end” on television networks. In a communication to the ministry, the commission said television channels from now on should be guided by Section 6 (advertisement code) of the Cable TV Networks (Regulation) Act, which prohibits advertisements by political parties on TV channels.

This guideline had been overturned in 1999 when Andhra Pradesh High Court allowed parties to put out advertisements on television channels and in print.

The information and broadcasting ministry, however, felt it could not monitor private channels that had mushroomed in states. The Sun television channel, for instance, is run by the DMK, and the Kairali by the CPM. The ministry had approached the panel after the recent Assembly polls and asked it to find a mechanism by which it could rein in the private channels. The commission decided to reinforce the Cable Networks Act.

As far as the India Shining campaign is concerned, the commission has maintained that it is helpless to bring the government to book till it announces the date of elections and the conduct code is enforced. Chief election commissioner T.S. Krishnamurthy has urged political parties without success to honour the “spirit” of the code.

In a separate development, the panel today ordered legal proceedings against BJP Lok Sabha MP Kirti Azad for violating the law. He had printed campaign material on behalf of his wife and party candidate Poonam Azad without her authorisation during the recent Assembly polls in Delhi.

“A mere look at the pamphlet shows it must have cost a considerable amount to Kirti Azad. Poonam Azad, in her reply to the commission, has stated that she had not authorised anyone or had any idea about anyone printing or distributing any election material,” the panel said.

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