The Telegraph
Since 1st March, 1999
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Seizure powers for censor EC

New Delhi, April 13: The Supreme Court today settled the row over political advertisements by empowering the Election Commission to monitor these and seize equipment of errant networks.

The poll panel would thus be the “sole authority” to certify political ads, none of which could be telecast without its clearance, ruled the three-judge bench led by Chief Justice V.. Khare.

Both the content of the ads and the transcript would have to be submitted to the poll panel or its nominated official for clearance. Article 324 of the Constitution empowers the panel to oversee, control and conduct the elections, the bench pointed out.

Last week, the poll panel had suggested to the court to limit political ads to registered and recognised parties and poll candidates, and a seven-day preview for the ad content in the wake of an apex court interim order banning offensive ads.

The panel, however, was reluctant to do the screening itself, preferring the government as the monitor.

Empowering the panel with seizure powers today, the bench said: “If the EC, while monitoring the cable networks and TV channels throughout the country, came across any infringement of this court’s order, it could direct seizure of the equipment of the TV channel or the cable operator showing the illegal advertisement.”

The panel can also appoint sub-committees in the states to look into grievances of non-certification of ads by the district magistrate or his nominee, who are authorised to screen the advertisements.

If the sub-committee’s decision is unacceptable, the aggrieved party must approach the Supreme Court and none else, the bench said.

The apex court order shall remain in force till the elections are over on May 10.

The controversy broke with the Kamakshi Education Trust releasing an ad with an obvious reference to Congress chief Sonia Gandhi’s Italian origin and another put out by Shahji Enterprises that made out Atal Bihari Vajpayee to be a police informer during the Quit India movement and .K. Advani a Pakistani.

Now parties, candidates and “other persons”, including organisations like the “trusts” mentioned above, wanting to telecast an ad would have to submit an affidavit to the Election Commission to help weed out “surrogate” ads.

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