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EC gets 3 days to finetune ad guidelines
Our Legal Correspondent

New Delhi, April 5
The Supreme Court today gave three days time to the Election Commission (EC) to finetune its guidelines to control the telecast of slanderous political programmes on TV as part of poll campaign and even indicated that telecast of offending advertisements can be made an electoral offence, if the commission so desired.

“Personal remarks against one leader or the other and one party and the other is not democracy. We will make it an electoral offence under Representation of People’s Act in a judgement even tomorrow,” a Bench, headed by the Chief Justice Mr V.N. Khare told EC counsel K.K. Venugopal.

The Bench having Mr Justice S.B. Sinha and Mr Justice S.H. Kapadia as the other two judges told the EC counsel “if you require pre-censor of the ads, we will issue a direction to the Union Government. Any modality you require to monitor the ads on TV please tell us.”

The court asked the EC to place the guidelines before it by April 8 when further hearing of the matter will resume.

When Venugopal told the Bench that the commission faced the difficulty of multiplicity of litigation on such issues as various High Courts from time to time ask the commission to file replies, the Chief Justice said “we will guard you in your efforts to clean the dirt and dust in electronic media.”

In the very outset of the argument on Union Information and Broadcasting Ministry’s appeal against the Andhra Pradesh High Court order allowing the telecast of political ads on TV and cable networks, the EC counsel sought further time to evolve modalities to monitor the political ads, saying the task was daunting.

He said the commission had to guard against 53 TV news channels, 10 major multi-service cable operators, 33,000 local cable operators, six national and 45 regional parties and 702 registered unrecognised political parties. Besides, activity of each of nearly 5,000 contesting candidate has to be monitored, Venugopal said adding the guidelines had to be framed by keeping this in mind.

Solicitor General Kirit Raval, appearing for the Centre told the Bench that the government wanted that the election campaign was conducted cleanly and the court’s intervention was welcomed by every one.

To court’s query about the inclusion of the cost of political ads in candidates’ election expenditure, EC counsel said the earlier provision regarding this had been deleted from the Representation of People’s Act by an amendment last year.

The government counsel said if the expenditure was included in the candidate’s expenses, it would have wide ramifications. “But whatever monitoring (about ads) is required, it should be done,” he said.

Describing the High Court order as bad in law, the EC counsel said political parties had been amassing huge funds before every election and it was the main reason for “corrupting the poll process”.

The ban on political ads on electronic media was aimed at preventing the use of “money power” and provide level playing field to every candidate, Venugopal said adding many western democracies had banned such ads.

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