It’s violation of right to free speech and expression: Jaitley

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NEW DELHI, November 5:  Taking exception to the government view that it was not proper on the part of television channels to have compared Prime Minister Manmohan Singh’s Independence Day address with Gujarat Chief Minister and BJP prime ministerial candidate Narendra Modi’s speech, Leader of the Opposition in the Rajya Sabha Arun Jaitley has said it amounts to violation of the right to free speech and expression.

Also impacting the right are the recent order of the Telecom Regulatory Authority of India restricting advertising time on the electronic media and the Election Commission proposal to ban opinion polls, Mr. Jaitley said in a note released by the BJP on Monday.

Quoting Article 19(2) of the Constitution, Mr. Jaitley said it provided specific conditions under which the right to free speech could be restricted. These restrictions must necessarily have nexus to the sovereignty and integrity of India, the security of the state, friendly relations with foreign states, the public order, decency or morality or in relation to contempt of court, defamation or incitement to an offence.

“No restriction can be imposed on the right to free speech either by the government or by the Election Commission which falls outside the purview of any of the above circumstances.”

The BJP leader said the effect of the Information and Broadcasting Ministry’s order was that on days the Prime Minister addressed the nation, no other speech should be telecast, Chief Ministers must be boycotted and any comment of an Opposition leader should be censored.

“Criticism which does not offend any of the Article 19(2) restrictions can never be restricted. No action under the Cable law can be taken for a legitimate exercise of the free speech right. The restrictions under the Cable regulations must all be read in the context of Article 19(2). Otherwise, such provisions of the Cable regulations may fall foul of Article 19(1) (a).”

On the TRAI order restricting advertising time, the BJP leader said it ostensibly hurt the business of a news channel and also effectively hurt the right of free speech.

On the EC proposal to ban opinion polls, Mr. Jaitley said the commission would be best advised to keep away from this controversy and allow the market place of democracy to accept or reject the findings of an opinion poll.

“If the polls can be legitimately banned in this country, the next step would be to ban political commentators from giving assessments favourable to some and adverse to some others. A potential loser in an election cannot seek to alter the rules of Free Speech.”

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