Push for political ads on radio - Ministry asks EC for a decision before state elections

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By CITHARA PAUL in Delhi
  • Published 11.11.08
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New Delhi, Nov. 11: If the Election Commission agrees, political parties will be able to campaign over the radio, especially FM channels, in the upcoming state and national elections.

The information and broadcasting (I&B) ministry has requested the commission to allow radio to air political advertisements like TV channels do. Sources said the ministry has asked for a decision before the upcoming state polls, or at least ahead of the general election.

If the commission gives the green light fast, revenues of the radio industry — particularly the FM channels — are expected to rise by Rs 150 crore between now and the general election.

“The ministry feels that since TV channels are allowed to carry the ads following a Supreme Court order, there can be no justification for denying the FM channels,” a ministry official said.

The poll panel will have to decide whether the radio channels should follow the TV guidelines — the chief condition being that the ads cannot malign rival parties — or have separate guidelines.

“If the commission is willing to grant permission, the AIR code (Code for Commercial Advertising on All India Radio) will be amended,” the official said.

The commission had banned political advertisements on radio and TV in February 2004 citing the AIR code and the Cable TV Networks (Regulation) Act, 1995. Both prohibit airing of political ads.

The ban had spoiled the BJP’s plan to unleash its India Shining campaign on FM radio and private TV channels to target the youth. The commission had argued it was not imposing a ban but only asking the government to enforce the existing law.

The Indian Broadcasting Foundation (IBF) — an organisation of TV-related companies — had challenged the decision in the Supreme Court, arguing broadcasters should be treated on a par with the print media. The apex court judged in favour of the TV channels.

But the radio ban stayed on. The AIR code says: “No advertisement shall be permitted, the objects whereof are wholly or mainly of a religious or political nature.”

The radio industry is upbeat about the ministry recommendation. An official of the Association of Radio Operators of India, a conglomeration of FM channels, said: “If political advertisements are permitted on television, what logic is there to prevent us from doing so?”