The Supreme Court, on May 13, decreed that only the prime minister, president and chief justice of India can feature in government advertisements. But taking India’s federal spirit a step ahead, state governments seem to have decided that the top court’s order need not apply to them.
Between May 14 and June 7, more than 10 advertisements of state governments with pictures of chief ministers were published in the Delhi editions of major print dailies like The Hindustan Times, The Indian Express, The Hindu and The Times of India. Most of these were advertorials.
In case you’re wondering what an advertorial is, it is basically an advertisement “designed” to look like an article – advertisement + editorial = advertorial. A wonderful innovation of the marketing department to perfectly match the image of a newspaper as a source of news.
On May 27, the Delhi edition of The Hindustan Times carried a full-page advertorial on page 9 elaborating on the Tamil Nadu government’s achievements under the four-year All India Anna Dravida Munnetra Kazhagam (AIADMK) rule.
The advertorial had a total of nine pictures of the state chief minister and AIADMK chief J Jayalalithaa – actually 11 since two of the pictures had her posing in front of and behind her own poster.
On May 28, again, the HT carried another advertorial on broadly the same theme, this time stating how “The Return of Iron Lady Augurs Well for TN”. The advertorial carried five pictures of Jayalalithaa. The lengthy ode to the CM accompanied with the pictures stated how compliments were in order for the way in which Jayalalithaa “handled” the court cases against her and that she is “recognised” as the Iron Lady after Margret Thatcher – attracting Japanese investors and maintaining fiscal prudence was all possible because Tamil Nadu had Jayalalithaa.
How about Jail-Lalitha as a catchy subhead?
Advertorials highlighting the fast progress of Tamil Nadu under Jayalalithaa were printed in the Delhi edition of The Indian Express, too, on May 30, June 2 and June 4. Most of these carried more than one picture of Jayalalithaa.
Not 6/6 for sure.
Ah, yes, look at those well-placed fenestrations and the almost perfect massing of the piloti.
It’s not just the Tamil Nadu government that has used advertorials to talk about the incredible achievements of its CM. Uttar Pradesh Chief Minister Akhilesh Yadav was on the front page of TOI on June 5 pictured inaugurating a cycle track.
Is this an ad for World environment day? Or UP? Or an ad for Yadav’s guide to healthy living?
The government of UP published another advertisement in the TOI on page 17 on June 6, this time with a picture of Yadav along with Indian Premiere League Chairman Rajiv Shukla. The Madhya Pradesh government published a two-page advertorial on May 16 in The Hindustan Times with at least five pictures of chief minister Shivraj Singh Chouhan. Yup, within three days of the Supreme Court judgement.
Advocate Prashant Bhushan, who had filed a public interest litigation on behalf of the Centre For Public Interest Litigation to restrict the misuse of government ads, says these cases amount to contempt of court. But can the state governments take refuge in the technicality that the Supreme Court judgement doesn’t mention the term “advertorial” and restricts the orders to government “advertisement”? “It doesn’t matter whether it is termed an advertisement or an advertorial, so long as the government is paying for it. The Supreme Court judgement is pretty clear and this is a clear violation,” Bhushan says.
The judgement does clearly state that “’Government advertising’ means any message, conveyed and paid for by the government for placement in media such as newspapers, television, radio, internet, cinema and such other, media but does not include classified advertisements; and includes both copy (written text/audio) and creatives (visuals/video/multi 6 media) put out in print, electronic, outdoor or digital media.”
Right to Information activist Subhash Chandra Agrawal says contempt proceedings should be initiated against erring chief ministers. “The Supreme Court should also make its verdict more stringent by binding the media to it so that media houses have to reject all government-advertisements that go against the judgement.”
It was with the aim of thwarting a “personality cult” in politics that the Supreme Court had imposed restrictions on pictures. But a thorough reading of the court order would suggest that the broader aim of the litigants was to ensure that government ads are used only to disseminate information important to the public and not to gain political mileage: “…in the garb of communicating with the people, in many instances, undue political advantage and mileage is sought to be achieved by personifying individuals and crediting such individuals or political leaders (who are either from a political party or government functionaries) as being responsible for various government achievements and progressive plans.”
In this context, does a mere restriction on whose picture – whether the PM or the CM — gets published really matter?
Take a look at this front-page advertisement that was published in The Hindustan Times on May 26 that talks about the glorious rule of “Amma”, this time without her picture.
Clearly, the chief ministers concerned have taken liberty with the SC judgement and have chosen to not follow it in spirit. How long this state of affairs can last will depend on how soon the court takes notice of the blatant manner in which its judgment in being disregarded.
This article has been republished from newslaundry.com.