BJP slams poll panel for censoring TV campaign

May 3rd, 2008 - 11:55 pm ICT by admin  

Bangalore, May 3 (IANS) The Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) Friday criticised the Election Commission for censoring its promotional advertisement film to be broadcast on television channels as part of its campaign for the Karnataka assembly polls this month. In a letter to the chief election commissioner, BJP general secretary Arun Jaitley, who is also in-charge of the party’s poll campaign in the state, objected to the censoring of the film containing a message in Kannada by party leader Sushma Swaraj on the price rise and inflation.

“The state election commission has electronically blocked the words ‘central government’ and ‘Congress’ used by Swaraj while explaining to viewers as to who were responsible for soaring food prices and rise in inflation rate. The Election Commission order prevents our party from criticising the Congress and the UPA (United Progressive Alliance) government and holding them responsible for the price rise,” Jaitley told reporters later.

Releasing CDs of the uncensored and censored versions of the film to the media, Jaitley said Swaraj blamed the Congress-led central government for inflation and mismanagement of economy while showing visuals of food articles such as rice, wheat flour, edible oil, sugar and pulses with high price tags in the short films.

In accordance with the election code of conduct, BJP submitted April 29 to the chief electoral officer three CDs of 70 seconds and 45 seconds each for approval along with the draft text containing Swaraj’s speech, which the party proposed to telecast in electronic media.

“While clearing the CDs for telecast, the state election commission has ordered us to delete all references to the central government and the Congress from the message as if they are un-parliamentary expressions. Even as we abide by the order, we would like to register our strong objection to this inexplicable act of censorship, as elections are occasions when the will of the people is tested,” Jaitley pointed out.

Defending the right of political parties to air their views within the bounds of decency and the parameters of the constitution, the former law minister said paid commercials on the electronic media was an accepted way for parties to get their views across to voters.

“We recognise that our views on the economic mismanagement of the country may not be palatable to individual members of the Election Commmission. We also recognise that senior cabinet members have argued that price rise and inflation should not be politicized. Both have a right to their views. We, however, find it preposterous that individual views should dictate what can and what cannot be presented to voters during an election campaign,” he noted.

Terming the order a violation of Article 19(1)(a) of the constitution pertaining to the freedom of speech, Jaitley said if the Congress was allowed to praise its government in direct and surrogate advertisements, it was only fair that BJP must have an equal right to draw attention to the shortcomings of the UPA government and the Congress.

“The Election Commission order is bewildering considering that there are no similar restrictions on advertisements in the print media. We believe the order sets a dangerous precedent and imposes unacceptable constraints on democratic politics. We will challenge the decision at an appropriate forum,” Jaitely said in the letter.

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