News Excerpt
Meeting of Supreme Court of India mandated Committee on Content Regulation in Government Advertising (CCRGA) was recently heldvirtually.

•    As per directions of the Supreme Court, states are mandated to set up their respective three member committees on content regulation of government advertisements.
•    Committee should be empowered to address complaints from general public on violation of the Supreme Court’s guidelines and make suitable recommendations.
•    Karnataka, Goa, Mizoram and Nagaland have already constituted 3 member committees.
•    Chhattisgarh has given its consent to the Central Committee to monitor the content of their government advertisements.

    As per the directions of the Supreme Court in the case of “Common Cause vs. Union of India, 2015”, Centre in 2016 had set up a 3-member body consisting of “persons with unimpeachable neutrality and impartiality and who have excelled in their respective fields”, to look into content regulation of government funded advertisements of all media platforms.
    Apex Court’s guidelines dated 13th May, 2015:
o    Advertisement should be relevant to the government’s constitutional and legal obligations as well as the citizen’s rights and entitlements.
o    Advertisement should be presented in an objective, fair and accessible manner and designed to meet the objectives of the campaign.
o    Advertisement materials should be objective and not directed at promoting political interests of ruling party.
o    Advertisement Campaigns be justified and undertaken in an efficient and cost-effective manner.
o    Government advertising must comply with legal requirement and financial regulations and procedures.

    The meeting was chaired by Om Prakash Rawat, former Chief Election Commissioner of India, attended by two other members, Ramesh Narayan from Asian Federation of Advertising Associations, and Ashok Kumar Tandon from Prasar Bharti Board.
    CCRGA meeting took a serious note of the fact that other states are yet to constitute committees.
    CCRGA was of the view that some states delay in setting up the committees may be construed as contempt of Supreme Court’s order.
    CCRGA’s attention was also drawn to the fact that some respondents were yet to furnish their replies to the notices issued to them in response to the complaints received by the Committee.
    In view of the Covid19, the Committee decided to allow further time to respondents to furnish their replies to the notices in all the pending complaints.
    CCRGA felt that non-compliance of its decisions was a serious matter.
    The Committee may, if necessary, also decide to summon the concerned official of the agencies dealing with release of advertisements in the event of undue delay in responding to Committee’s notices.

    The principle behind government advertisements is to enhance awareness of the people regarding government schemes and projects, welfare programs, and other such state initiatives.
    These government advertisements inform people about potential entitlements, eligibility conditions, application portals, and other such necessary details.
    It becomes critical that the government spends money in a way to ensure that the maximum number of people are made aware of these benefits.
    Politicians frequently claim they do not discriminate while giving advertisements on the basis of caste, class, religion, or ideology, but it’s not considered as true.
    The fundamental right to information of the citizens is violated time and again.
    Due to underdeveloped revenue models, newspapers are especially dependent on revenue from government advertisement. This threatens its independence.
    By starving them of funds despite their evident popularity, the government also muzzles their voices.

Publicizing a leader or a party’s greatness at public expense and at the cost of conveying valuable information is a blatant misuse of public funds for private and political gains. The ads become more a source of self-aggrandizement rather than a genuine attempt at informing people. Corrective steps must be taken to ensure that this do not happen.

Article 19(1)(a), Prasar Bharati, Editor’s Guild of India, Press Trust of India, Bhasha, United News of India, UNI-Varta