In an important development with regard to regulation of public advertisements, the Supreme Court on Wednesday said that they can carry pictures of certain dignitaries like the President, Prime Minister and the Chief Justice of India.
Issuing a slew of guidelines, the SC prohibited the use of photographs of political leaders in advertisements issued by the government and its agencies, saying it leads to a personality cult..
A bench headed by Justice Ranjan Gogoi rejected the plea of the central government that judiciary should not tread into the territory of policy decisions and said that the courts can step in if there is no policy or law in place.
It also asked the central government to constitute a three-member committee to regulate the issue of public advertisement.
The court accepted all major recommendations made by a committee on regulation of government advertisements. It, however, did not allow a provision for special audit of award of government advertisement to media houses.
The court said the use of photographs of an individual, leader or minister not only has a tendency to associate an individual with a project, but leads to a personality cult.
The court said this was a direct injustice to democracy.
It did not approve one of the recommendations of the three-member committee, headed by eminent academician Prof NR Madhava Menon, that government advertisements should not carry photographs of any dignitaries including the President and the Prime Minister.
The apex court had on April 24 had set up the committee and decided to frame guidelines to prevent “misuse” of public funds by the government and authorities in giving ads in newspapers and television to gain political mileage.
Earlier on February 17, the government had opposed the framing of guidelines on regulating its advertisements, saying this did not fall under the ambit of judicial purview as an elected dispensation was answerable to Parliament.
It had also asked as to how would the court decide which advertisement has been issued to gain political mileage.
Appearing for the Centre, Attorney General (AG) Mukul Rohatgi had said that “there are matters which should be left to the government and are outside the purview of the courts” and had added that the government communicates to the public at large through these advertisements on policy and other matters. Earlier, the court had refused to direct stopping of publication of government advertisements carrying photos of political figures, saying that it would like to hear the Centre and others on a court-appointed panel’s recommendations to regulate publicity materials.