Calling it an “antithesis to democracy” to let political functionaries develop “personality cult” at the cost of public money, the Supreme Court Wednesday ruled that photographs of only the President, Prime Minister and Chief Justice of India can be published in newspapers and other media, including the Internet.
Prohibiting publication of photographs of even Governors and Chief Ministers using the public exchequer, a bench of Justices Ranjan Gogoi and P C Ghose said “institutions need not be glorified but they must earn glory by contribution and work”.
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The bench noted that publication of photographs of a state or a political party functionary had a tendency to associate individuals with social benefit schemes or achievements.
“Photographs, therefore, have the potential of developing the personality cult and the image of one or a few individuals which is a direct antithesis of democratic functioning,” it said.
The bench said the “legitimate” objective of advertisements can always be achieved without publishing pictures of individuals.
Citing the relevance of the Directive Principles of State Policy, the bench said “ensuring avoidance of unproductive expenditure of public funds” will go a long way in securing “social and economic justice to the teeming millions of the country, who even today live behind an artificially drawn poverty line.”
The bench said it was the government’s “responsibility” to disseminate information necessary for the public to know about policies and programmes while making certain that the advertisement campaigns are objective and fair, cost-effective and definitely “not directed at promoting political interests of a party”.
Dismissing the Centre’s objection to restrict publication of photographs or to issue other guidelines, the court said it was a fit case to exercise the top court’s powers under Article 142 of the Constitution and impose curbs on “politically motivated” advertisements.
It said while the government could issue advertisements in the memory of national leaders and great personalities, several advertisements by different departments on the same occasion were not justified.
A single advertisement issued by a central agency such as the Directorate of Advertising and Visual Publicity (DAVP) and information departments of states would be enough, the bench said.
It said patronisation of media houses by central and state governments must be avoided and award of advertisements should be on a fair and objective basis while taking note of circulation etc.
To iron out issues regarding implementation of its directions and compliance, the court said the Centre will constitute a three-member body of ombudsmen, comprising persons with unimpeachable impartiality who have excelled in their fields.
The bench, however, said there was no necessity of imposing a special curb on government advertisements on the eve of the elections or to order a special audit in view of the guidelines issued.
The guidelines have been framed on the basis of the recommendations of a panel which took into account best practices in countries like Australia, Canada, US and UK.
Hearing PILs by NGOs Common Cause and CPIL, the court, in April last year, had ordered constitution of a panel to frame comprehensive guidelines to help end the abuse of public advertisements for political mileage.