The Bombay High Court on Tuesday questioned the Election Commission of India (ECI) as to why no decision had been taken on regulating political ads on social media, especially 48 hours before polling day.
Chief Justice NH Patil and Justice NM Jamdar were hearing a PIL filed by advocate Sagar Suryawanshi seeking directions to the Election Commission of India to prohibit all persons, politicians from posting sponsored advertisements that are political in nature, 48 hours before polling day.
ECI's lawyer Pradeep Rajagopal submitted before the bench that there was a meeting with stakeholders i.e., Facebook, Twitter, and Google on March 19. The Internet and Mobile Association of India (IAMAI) was also consulted by the ECI and a voluntary code of ethics was submitted. The ECI accepted the said code of ethics.
"Election Commission had made it clear that social networking sites should come up with their own code of ethics. It is kind of self-censorship," Rajagopal said.
The court questioned Rajagopal as to why the EC did not take any effort on their own to come up with the code of ethics. "In view of this voluntary code of ethics, we don't have to do anything," Rajagopal replied.
Earlier, the EC had filed an affidavit before the high court stating that a code of ethics is being evolved in consultation with the IAMAI and intermediaries.
Petitioner's counsel Dr. Abhinav Chandrachud opposed the EC's submission and stated that under this code of ethics, the Election Commission has to notify the intermediaries (social media sites) within three hours if anything goes wrong.
"Three hours on the internet is eternity, within a span of three hours the damage would already be done. So, give them half an hour and if not then at least do not let them advertise 48 hours before polling day," Chandrachud said.
The court again questioned the ECI on why regulation of political ads during the 48-hour period before polling day was not being done.
"There have been so many adjournments on such an important issue, the ECI should not have taken such a long time on such a vital issue. Why are you hesitant and reluctant to pass a formal order," it asked the ECI.
Finally, the court reserved its order in the matter.