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The apex court had earlier said photographs of only the president, prime minister and chief justice of India should be carried in government advertisements. Photo: Pradeep Gaur/Mint
The apex court had earlier said photographs of only the president, prime minister and chief justice of India should be carried in government advertisements. Photo: Pradeep Gaur/Mint

SC allows photos of chief ministers, governors, ministers in govt ads

A bench reviewed the apex court's May 2015 judgement which laid down the guidelines for govt-funded ads in print and electronic media

New Delhi: The Supreme Court on Friday permitted the use of photographs of governors, chief ministers, Union and state cabinet ministers in government advertisements, modifying an earlier order that restricted the use of photographs to only three top dignitaries.

A bench comprising justices Ranjan Gogoi and Pinaki Chandra Ghose changed its own May 2015 ruling to expand the list of leaders who can be featured in government-funded advertisements in print and electronic media.

The earlier ruling allowed the photographs of the president, prime minister and the chief justice of India (CJI).

The Friday ruling also allowed photographs of cabinet ministers at the centre and state in some instances. “In lieu of the photographs of the prime minister, the photograph of the departmental (cabinet) minister of the concerned ministry may be published, if so desired. The same shall apply in the states," the bench said on Friday.

The court’s guidelines came after two non-profits Centre for Public Interest Litigation (CPIL) and Common Cause moved the court against wasteful government expenditure on advertising.

Assam, Karnataka, Tamil Nadu and West Bengal, along with the central government, had approached the top court seeking a review of this judgement. CPIL had also sought a review of the court’s judgement to exclude the photograph of the PM as those advertisements “partially defeated" the entire objective of the court’s orders. The states had sought parity in view of the federal nature of India, which puts state chief minister and governor at the same position as the prime minister and president of the country.

Political parties have cheered the court’s move. “This is a welcome step by the Supreme Court. Chief ministers, governors are constitutional posts and they cannot be kept away from public view. But chief ministers and ministers should ensure this relaxation should not be misused, and there should be no misuse of public money for propaganda," said G.V.L. Narasimha Rao, a spokesperson for the Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP).

The court had last year said that the publication of government ads carrying photographs have the potential of promoting “a personality cult and the image of one or a few individuals, which is a direct antithesis of democratic functioning".

The court’s initial ruling had come after a panel set up by the apex court suggested photographs of political leaders be avoided in general in government ads. The panel carved out an exception for the president/prime minister or state governor/chief minister for “effective government messaging".

The apex court, in 2014, had constituted the panel comprising N.R. Madhava Menon, a former director of the National Judicial Academy, Bhopal; T.K. Viswanathan, former secretary general of Lok Sabha; and lawyer Ranjit Kumar, the current solicitor general, to consider various issues surrounding government ads and submit a report.

The panel submitted a report to the court titled The Government Advertisements (Content Regulation) Guidelines 2014.

“It’s a mere cognizance of the federal structure. The previous election in Bihar saw pictures of senior leaders being used. At a time when key states are heading to polls in the next two years, this will be a factor," said Jai Mrug, a Mumbai-based political analyst.

West Bengal, Assam, Kerala, Tamil Nadu and the Union territory of Puducherry head to polls in the next two months. Uttar Pradesh, Punjab, Goa, Manipur and Uttarakhand will hold assembly elections in 2017.

The recommendations of the committee, which the court has accepted with four exceptions, mandated that government advertisements will not contain a political party’s symbol, logo or flag.

Government advertisements are required to be politically neutral and must refrain from glorifying political personalities.

Some analysts disagree with this findings of the committee.

“A (political) party’s brand recognition is through the face of the leader. When political parties are interacting with audiences, there are just a few triggers that can bring the party alive to the common man. One is through the party symbol and the other is through the face of the campaign that they see repeatedly time and again," said Kiran Khalap, co-founder, Chlorophyll Brand and Communications Consultancy.

Pretika Khanna, Anuja and Vidhi Choudhary contributed to this story.

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