Parliament – Sessions, Procedures, Motions, Committees etc

PM and President’s photos in Govt Ads: Judicial Interpretation


From UPSC perspective, the following things are important :

Prelims level : Read the attached story

Mains level : Govt advertisement and related issues

The Madras High Court has directed the Tamil Nadu government to include the photographs of the President of India and Prime Minister in advertisements on the 44th Chess Olympiad underway in Chennai.

Why in news?

  • The HC relied on a 2015 Supreme Court ruling that issued guidelines on government spending on advertisements.

How can we classify Govt Ads with other political ads?

The primary cause of government advertisement is to use public funds:

  • To inform the public of their rights, obligations, and entitlements
  • To explain Government policies, programs, services and initiatives.

2015 Supreme Court’s Ruling

  • In Common Cause v Union of India, the Supreme Court sought to regulate the government expenditure on advertisements.
  • It essentially regulated the 2007 New Advertisement Policy of the Government of India.
  • The petitioners had argued that there is arbitrary spending on advertisements by the government.
  • The allegations ranged from wastage of public money for political mileage to using advertisements as a tool to manipulate media.
  • A three-judge Bench comprising then CJI P Sathasivam, and Justices Ranjan Gogoi and N V Ramana had set up a committee to suggest a better policy.

What are the guidelines?

  • No endorsement: Patronization of any particular media house must be avoided and award of advertisements must be on an equal basis to all newspapers who may, however, be categorized depending upon their circulation.
  • The Government Advertisements (Content Regulation) Guidelines 2014 have five broad principles:
  1. Advertising campaigns are to be related to government responsibilities
  2. Materials should be presented in an objective, fair manner and designed to meet objectives of the campaign
  3. Advertisements must not directed at promoting political interests of a party
  4. Campaigns must be justified and undertaken in a cost-effective manner
  5. Advertisements must comply with legal requirements and financial regulations

What did the Supreme Court rule?

  • It largely accepted the committee report except on a few issues:
  1. The appointment of an ombudsman to oversee the implementation of the guidelines
  2. A special performance audit of government spending
  3. An embargo on publication of advertisements on the eve of elections
  • The ruling mandated that government advertisements will not contain a political party’s symbol, logo or flag.
  • They are required to be politically neutral and must refrain from glorifying political personalities.

What about photographs in advertisements?

  • The Supreme Court agreed with the committee’s suggestion that photographs of leaders should be avoided and only the photographs of the President/ PM or Governor/ CM shall be used for effective government messaging.
  • Then-Attorney General had opposed the recommendation arguing that if the PM’s photograph is allowed in the advertisement, then the same right should be available to his cabinet colleagues as the PM is the “first among the equals”.
  • The court, while restricting the recommendation to the photos of the President and Prime Minister, added the photograph of the Chief Justice of India to that list of exceptions.

What are the takeaways from the SC and HC verdicts?

  • The SC ruling stepped into content regulation, which is a facet of the right to freedom of speech and expression, and was also in the domain of making policy.
  • This raised questions on the judiciary stepping on the executive’s domain.
  • The SC ruling did not mandate publication of the photograph of the PM and President, but only restricts publication of photos of government officials other than the President, PM, CJI, CM and the Governor.
  • In an opposition-ruled state such as Tamil Nadu, exclusion of the PM’s photos is seen as a political move.
  • The HC said that considering the “national interest” in the issue, the “excuses taken by the state” cannot be accepted.


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Gary Stokley
6 months ago

Great photo. I like lively and sparkling images. I use stock images and had to go through a lot of options before I found one that worked for me First of all, I was impressed by the huge selection as well as the quality.


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