Section 7 of the Cable Television Network Regulation Act
of 1995 passed by the Parliament enjoins all commercials
shown on paid television channels (i.e. excluding free-to-air
channels) to be on the correct side of the above rule. To
this narrow extent, the EC is probably right in pointing
fingers at the government and the Parliament.
you guessed it right, there is also the other side of this
case: The 1951 Representation of the People (PR) Act was
amended by the Parliament through the Election and Other
Related Laws (Amendment) Act of 2002. Section 39A of this
amended act clearly states that the Election Commission
shall allot political parties equitable sharing of time
on the cable television network and other electronic media,
based on their past electoral performances. The parties
can use the time allotted, in a prescribed manner, to display
or propagate any election matter or to address public in
connection with an election. Even a preliminary reading
of this amendment act makes it clear that paid political
advertisements are not forbidden from being aired on cable
television channels. Forget banning, the law talks about
EC ensuring that TV time is actually given to the parties
us now come to a more fundamental issue: India is a democracy.
And the degree to which parties and candidates can freely
and openly discuss their political views is an important
indicator of the well-being of our country's democracy.
In fact, this principle is enshrined as a fundamental right
in the Article 19 1(a) of the Indian Constitution that guarantees
every citizen the freedom of speech and expression. Expressing
political opinion through commercials in newspapers, radio,
television or other electronic media certainly falls under
this category. Already, we have been permitting paid political
ads to be published in newspapers, since decades. Then why
should they now be excluded from the television?
political culture of the earlier generations was defined
by mass public rallies and gatherings where political leaders
personally delivered lengthy speeches to a captive audience.
However, few voters of today are genuinely influenced by
such massive political rallies. It is therefore not at all
surprising that, since the past few years, such political
rallies and gatherings have been reduced a farcical contest
of numbers, which uninterested people are routinely bribed
or forced to attend. While they might capture temporary
media or public attention, it comes at a disproportionately
high cost to the party in terms of valuable financial resources,
time and thought that goes into organizing such massive
is here that Cable TV networks and other electronic media
(the Internet and the radio) are potentially the most effective
and promising vehicles for mass communication. For a political
party or candidate, they are not just a cost-effective campaign
option but also offer a much wider reach that simply cannot
be matched by any other means. While some political parties
seem to have realized this paradigmatic shift in the nature
of electoral campaign, this fact might have escaped the
Election Commission's notice.
that we have examined the key facts, let us drive the point
home: during the 1999 election season, the AP High Court
struck down EC's order banning the airing of political commercials
on TV. It simply does not seem appropriate for it to issue
a similar order now. At the same time, we should not forget
that the government's own rule banning political ads on
TV channels not only goes against the Section 39A of the
PR (amended) Act but also violates both the letter and spirit
of the Article 19 1(a) and is therefore clearly unconstitutional.
The solution lies in:
rectifying the unconstitutional Rule 6 (Clause 3) of the
existing cable television network rules and
b. framing new cable television network rules that confirm
to the Constitution's fundamental rights as well as Parliament's
PR Amendment Act (i.e. Section 39A).
just about sums up our case. Our arguments would have done
Perry Mason proud!
the TV time allotment rules are in place, the political
parties and the cable TV networks should explore options
to utilize this time for interesting and meaningful political
programs, which the viewers find attractive. The operative
words here are: interesting and attractive. Dull political
speeches by party functionaries, boring propaganda visuals
or shouting contests between contestants - all have the
potential to alienate the viewers faster than you can say
'unconstitutional cable TV rule'!