New Delhi: Government advertisements should be politically neutral and refrain from carrying political leaders' photographs and it is only in essential situations that those of the president, prime minister, governor or chief ministers should be used, the Supreme Court was told on Thursday.
The apex court-appointed committee said this in its report on "Guidelines on Content Regulation of Government Advertising" that was submitted to the court Sep 24, 2014. The report said that given the importance of "democracy, human rights and good governance", the guidelines be given statutory backing and called 'Government Advertisement (Content Regulation) Guidelines 2014.'
The three-member committee headed by eminent legal academician and founder director of Bangalore's National Law University N.R. Madhavan Menon in its guidelines has said that advertisement material should be objective and not directed at promoting political interest of the ruling party.
Recommending that the government advertisement material should avoid photographs of political leaders, the report said, "if it is felt essential for effective messaging only the photographs of the president/prime minister or governor/chief minister should be used".
"Government advertising shall maintain political neutrality and avoid glorification of political personalities and projecting a positive impression of the party in power or a negative impression of parties critical of the government," said the committee which also had former Lok Sabha secretary general T.K. Vishwanathan and present Solicitor General Ranjit Kumar as members.
A bench of Justice Ranjan Gogoi and Justice Arun Mishra directed the next hearing on the panel report on Feb 17 as the central government sought time to file its response to the report.
Since a number of parties to the case too had not got the copy of the report, the court directed its registry to make it available the same.
Counsel Prashant Bhushan, who appeared for the NGO Centre for Public Interest Litigation, described the report as "fine and salutary" that would stop of the misuse of government advertisements.
Seeking some immediate directions, Bhushan said that it would save crores of rupees that are being spent every day.
"This kind of misuse of government funds must be stopped forthwith. How can it go on day to day basis," he told the court.
Recommending that government advertisements should not be used for patronising media houses or for receiving favourable coverage, the committee in its guidelines has said there should be only one commemorative advertisement instead of multiple advertisements by different departments and PSUs of the same government.
The recommended guidelines said that in case of a large scale advertisement campaign, "post-campaign assessment is necessary to be included in the planning process itself".
For the compliance and enforcement of the guidelines, the committee has recommended the appointment of an eminent independent expert as ombudsman for receiving the complaints of violation of guidelines and to recommend action against the violators.
Counsel Kaleeswaram Raj appearing for an intervener urged the court that recommendation for the appointment of ombudsman should not be accepted as it would be a political appointee. He said that instead the task should be left the CAG who is constitutionally mandated to discharge such functions.
The apex court, while setting up the Madhvan Committee April 23 last year, had said: "There is no policy or guideline to regulate the content of government advertisements and to exclude the possibility of any mala fide use or misuse of public funds on advertisements in order to gain political mileage by the political establishment."