Common Cause Welcomes Supreme Court Judgment on Government Advertisements

Common Cause welcomed the landmark Supreme Court judgment which lays down guidelines for publicly funded government advertisements misused ostensibly to promote political leaders and parties in power.

The apex court bench comprising Justice Ranjan Gogoi and Justice P C Ghose prohibits in its judgment the use of photographs of ministers and other political leaders in government advertisements with the exception of the President of India, the Prime Minister and the Chief Justice of the Supreme Court of India.

Dr Vipul Mudgal, Director, Common Cause, said in a statement that the judgment will be an important step in the direction of building accountability in the expenditure of the tax payers’ money. He said the provision of three-member ombudsman to oversee the release of government advertisement is an idea whose time has come and which has the potential to emerge as an institution in its own right like the Election Commission of India.

Mudgal said the landmark judgment is a tribute to the organisation’s founder Mr H D Shourie under whose guidance the writ petition was filed in 2003 in the midst of a media blitzkrieg of political advertising better remembered as “India Shining” campaign. However, it must be added that all political parties in power, either at the centre or in the states, have been misusing public money for promoting their leaders’ image, particularly during or before the elections. Mudgal said it is indeed worrisome that political leaders and parties are building and marketing their ‘brands’ at the expense of the ordinary people.

He said Self-congratulatory advertisements are routinely inserted in newspapers and magazines to bolster the image of political parties/ politicians at a huge cost to the exchequer. The Election Commission too has criticized the practice in the past (The EC on July 5, 2004 proposed that where any general election is due on the expiration of the term of the House, advertisements of achievements of the governments, either Central or State, in any manner, should be prohibited for a period of six months prior to the date of expiry of the term of the House, and in case of premature dissolution, from the date of dissolution of the House)

Although the Common Cause team is yet to read the full judgment, it feels vindicated 15 years after filing the writ petition aimed at stopping the rampant misuse of public money.The original Common Cause writ was filed in 2003 and later tagged with another similar petition filed by the Centre for Public Interest Litigation (CPIL). Advocates Meera Bhatia and Prashant Bhushan appeared for Common Cause and CPIL in the case.

On April 23, 2014 the Supreme Court had constituted a committee to suggest guideline for regulation of public advertisements after studying the best practices in other jurisdictions. 

The three-member expert committee appointed by the Supreme Court submitted its guidelines for regulating publicly funded government advertisement campaigns in October 2014. On January 8, 2015, the Court directed that the contesting parties file their responses to the guidelines drawn up by the committee.

Issued By Anumeha Jha for Common Cause

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