By Abhijit Roy
The Supreme Court’s recent order on review of its earlier order to accept the Central Government’s contention that chief ministers and governors are as much constitutional authorities as the Prime Minister, and their pictures should thus be allowed in government advertisements.
No doubt, the order is welcome because it has established a level-playing field among the various constitutional authorities.
The government, to build its case, argued that to allow only the PM’s picture, in fact, led to promoting a personality cult, which went against the spirit of the May 2015 restraint on such ads.
However, this can also be seen as a virtual admission that these ads are indeed promotion of personalities at public cost.
To remedy the perceived injustice towards the ‘lesser’ constitutional authorities, the Supreme Court could have actually also decreed the PM’s pictures out of government ads. Although the use of pictures of personalities does not improve the quality of communication.
As advertisement of consumer goods do not carry the respective company’s CMD’s picture. But even stronger proof is the government ads aimed at communicating real and urgent public matters, such as health advisories, police alerts, or income-tax date alerts. These rarely come with pictures of ministers.
It is the inauguration notices and greetings that come with the largest pictures. The public usefulness of the latter is debatable, while the expense on them is definitely greater as they are invariably in colour and larger in size.
Life-size cut-outs, pictures of the CM on ambulances, newspaper advertisements, all are misuse of public money that was meant to educate people on matters of general or national interest.
In fact, such is the temptation that often pictures don’t just ‘accompany’ a message, but messages are created expressly to carry a picture.
The publicity fund available to governments is also known to have been used selectively to patronise or suppress certain publications, which amounts to manipulation of the freedom of the Press.
It would be worthwhile to enlarge the debate to include aspects other than just the parity between the constitutional authorities.