New Delhi, March 23: Andhra Pradesh High Court today struck down a rule under the Cable Network Regulation Act that bars political advertisements on electronic media, saying it was discriminatory and violated the right to freedom of trade and business.
The order, which came on a petition by a television network that challenged the ban on telecast of political advertisements, should come as a relief to parties, though channels prefer to wait for the final word from the Election Commission.
Deputy commissioner A.. Jha said the poll panel has not come to any decision yet. “We have just heard about the order. The commission will study the court orders before taking a decision on the question of political advertisements,” Jha said.
However, it is the information and broadcasting ministry and not the Election Commission which will have to decide whether to challenge the order, as the Cable TV Networks (Regulation) Act, 1995, does not permit political advertisements on television.
The poll panel had been merely upholding the act after the ministry wrote to it saying it could not monitor the more than 100 private channels and the 30,000-odd cable operators that have mushroomed across the country.
The BJP was also apprehensive that Opposition parties would highlight scandals like Tehelka, which involved defence purchases, the cash-for-transfer scam and the one which led to Union minister Dilip Singh Judeo’s resignation to blunt the government’s India Shining campaign.
A senior I&B official said the ministry could challenge the order in the Supreme Court and wait for its directive. Another option is to go back to Parliament and amend the Cable Network Act. The third option is to allow political advertisements as directed by the high court.
Officials said the government would hold consultations after minister Ravi Shankar Prasad returns from Mathura, where he has gone to receive deputy Prime Minister .K. Advani’s Bharat Uday yatra.
The Congress, which had lined up several advertisements before being stopped in its tracks by the ban on poll-related advertisements, welcomed the high court’s order but expressed concerns about misuse by rivals.
“We welcome the decision of the Andhra high court. But we do hope that the contents of BJP advertisements (are) consistent with established guidelines. It should not be morally repugnant. The authorities (Election Commission) must ensure this,” party spokesperson Kapil Sibal said.