Nov 8, 2008

India - I&B ministry bats for political ads on radio

NEW DELHI: The information and broadcasting (I&B) ministry has recommended that radio should be permitted to carry political advertisements on the same lines as television channels, giving a revenue boost to the sector.

The recommendation has been made to the Election Commission on the eve of formal notification of elections to four states including the National Capital Territory of Delhi and a few months ahead of the next general elections.

Confirming the move, ministry joint secretary (broadcasting) Zohra Chatterjee said the recommendation had been made as TV had been carrying such advertising following a Supreme Court order. She said private FM broadcasters had for some time been urging the Government to permit them to carry the ads since TV had been permitted.

Another senior ministry source said "the ball is now in the court of the Commission" but expected the latter to agree on grounds of equity.

Hailing the decision, Association of Radio Operators of India (AROI) general secretary Uday Chawla said the step was long overdue. Allowing political advertisements on radio would enhance the sector's revenue which is also shared with the government.

It is expected that if the recommendation is accepted, the radio and particularly the FM radio industry may rake in revenue to the extent of Rs 1.2 billion between now and the general elections, expected in May next year, sources said.

Advertisements on radio had been banned on the commission through a letter sent to chief electoral officers on 8 November on the ground that "the Code for Commercial Advertising on the All India Radio prohibits advertisement of political nature."

The I&B ministry confirmed that the Code for Advertising on the AIR is also applicable for advertisements on FM Channels. Therefore, it may be seen that advertisements of political nature are prohibited on all Radio Channels.

The clarification was issued following some queries by broadcasters subsequent to a Supreme Court judgment of 13 April 2004.

Earlier in February 2004, the Commission had banned election-related and political advertisements on both radio and television. Both the Ministry and the Commission had also said that television channels would not be allowed to carry political ads as the Cable TV Networks (Regulation) Act 1995 prohibited them from doing so.

According to the provisions in the Advertisement Code, "No advertisement shall be permitted, the objects whereof, are wholly or mainly of a religious or political nature; advertisements must not be directed towards any religious or political end."

However, the Indian Broadcasting Foundation (IBF) had protested, saying broadcasters should be treated at par with the print media and should not be deprived of this advertising opportunity. It had, therefore, said television channels must also not be barred from carrying political ads, estimating revenues worth about Rs 600 million at that time.

Broadcasters had also decided to go ahead and carry political ads based on letters issued by the Election Commission in 2002 and 2003 when it permitted them to carry such ads after the Andhra Pradesh High Court judgment in 1999. Sun Group had also filed a petition in the Andhra Pradesh High Court on this issue around that time.

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