We’re Sorry, Say Paytm and Reliance Jio on Modi Advertisements

It remains to be seen whether the consumer affairs ministry plans on levying a nominal fee or issuing a public statement that criticises the companies' actions.

The Modi-Reliance Jio advertisement in newspapers.

The Modi-Reliance Jio advertisement in newspapers.

New Delhi: Reliance Jio and Paytm have apologised for improperly using Prime Minister Narendra Modi’s name and picture in their advertisements, the government said on Friday.

The admissions of impropriety come a month after the consumer affairs ministry, which administers the Emblems and Names (Prevention of Improper Use) Act of 1950, sent notices to both companies, asking them why they used Modi’s image in their advertisement campaigns.

The improper usage of Modi’s photograph, which appeared in the form of front-page newspaper advertisements last September (Reliance Jio) and November (Paytm), stirred debate over whether big corporates could turn the prime minister and his office into a prop for their commercial advertising.  The Wire at the time had reported on the improper nature of the advertisements.

“Clarifications were sought by the department of consumer affairs from Paytm and Reliance Jio wherein they have apologised for their inadvertent mistake,” junior consumer affairs minister CR Chaudhary said in a written reply to the Rajya Sabha.

Chaudhary pointed out that the Jio and Paytm advertisements contravened “prior permission requirements” stipulated under the emblems law. Based on the consumer affairs ministry’s  request, the information and broadcasting ministry has also now issued an advisory to print media organisations to receive permission from the competent authority before issuing any advertisement wherein the emblem and names specified under the Act are mentioned, he said.

Remedial action?

While the prime minister’s office (PMO) initially stonewalled RTI queries on whether Reliance Jio had taken permission from the Centre before using Modi’s image,  last December, in response to a question raised in Parliament, I&B junior minister Rajyavardhan Singh Rathore noted that no permission was granted to Jio. In his reply, Rathore indicated that the ball was now in the ministry of consumer affairs’ court. The 1950 emblems act, under which the consumer affairs ministry sent notices to Jio and Paytm, currently envisages a fine of Rs 500 for illegal use of official government names or images.

“We have sent notices to both (the companies) for using PM’s picture in their advertisement. We are yet to receive their response,” consumer affairs secretary Hem Pande had said in February. When asked what actions would be taken against the companies, he replied: “We will see once we get the replies.”

Now that both Jio and Paytm have apologised, it remains to be seen whether the consumer affairs ministry plans on levying a nominal fee or issuing a public statement that criticises the company’s advertisements and actions.