Why not hardsell on TV?
The Election Commission is right to prohibit the advertisement blitzkrieg of the central government that includes its fabled ‘India Shining’ campaign.
After all, the real issue is not so much about whether or not the ads are bombarding us with ‘lies, damned lies and statistics’ — as the opposition would have us know through their own counter-campaign — as about the wrongness of the government spending our money to tell us that we are feeling good. But what about the ban imposed on pre-election advertising by political parties on television?
Considering that individuals regularly exercise their right to be informed about products and services on the telly, why should political parties be denied from tom-tomming their wares on TV? The problem lies in the time-warped Cable Television Network Rules, 1994, prescribed under the advertisement code of the Cable Television Networks (Regulation) Act, 1995, which bars election-related political ads on the electronic media. One argument has it that such a gag on political TV ads provides a level-playing field for parties — flush with cash or otherwise. But this argument makes little sense with a ceiling on election expenses already in place. Say a party wishes to pump in all its funds into TV ads, while another decides to mix up the expenses in TV ads, hoardings, pamphlets and rallies. How is it anybody’s business but the party’s when it comes to deciding that one medium of dissemination/propaganda is a no-no, while the others are kosher — as long as the Model Code of Conduct is followed?
Mature democracies allow political parties to buy air-time for pre-poll ads. TV has a wider reach than any other medium and is cheaper in the long run, so the demand from parties is certainly there. It is another matter to insist on and maintain a balanced coverage of political rallies, speeches etc. by various TV channels. That is how things work in America, Europe and various other democracies. To distinguish between a political TV ad and a ‘documentary’ on a party or a party leader is nitpicking. Instead, it makes perfect sense to revise the outdated rule in the Cable TV law and act like a mature democracy which knows that voters falling — or not falling — for political ads on television is no different from falling — or not falling — for an ad in any other medium.