Video Editor: Vishal Kumar
Cameraperson: Debayan Dutta
On 31 March 2019, a 24x7 channel, which focuses only on the speeches and rallies of Prime Minister Narendra Modi and senior leaders of the Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP), was launched. The channel, called NaMo TV, is available on all major DTH networks. Since its launch, it has sparked questions on its legality and ownership. The Congress and the Aam Aadmi Party (AAP) have written to the Election Commission of India saying that NaMo TV violates the Model Code of Conduct.
Here’s all you need to know about the controversy.
Does NaMo TV Have a Licence?
No, it doesn’t. NaMo TV doesn’t feature on the list of Permitted Private Satellite TV Channels, as declared by the Information and Broadcasting Ministry on 31 March 2019.
It doesn’t matter if it’s a news, entertainment, sports or home-shopping channel, the I&B’s list of satellite channels has all channels which are allowed to broadcast through satellite. In fact, I&B Ministry sources have been quoted as saying that NaMo TV has not even applied for a broadcast licence.
Since NaMo TV is not on the I&B Ministry’s list of approved channels, there is no information about who owns it, whether the owners have security clearance or are adhering to rules of foreign investment for TV channels.
What’s the Purpose of NaMo TV? Advertising? News?
Or, something else? Since the controversy broke out, Tata Sky tweeted that “NaMo TV is a Hindi news service.” But later, the Tata Sky CEO speaking to NDTV claimed NaMo TV is not a news channel, but a special services channel.
Now, here’s the thing. Even if NaMo TV was a home-shopping, a news or an entertainment channel, it would still need licence to be broadcast as a satellite channel. And as we know, the channel does not have such a licence. So, how has it been allowed to be on-air?
And is NaMo TV a special services channel? Services channels are the ones which fall under the categories of Dance, Music, Bhajans etc. Different DTH providers offer their own set of services channels. So, if NaMo TV indeed is a special services channel, how come it is being offered by multiple DTH providers?
Moreover, the CEO of TataSky told NDTV that they are getting the NaMo TV feed from none other than the BJP.
If true, this means NaMo TV is a case of a political party broadcasting its developments and achievements – a clear violation of the Model Code of Conduct.
Why Isn’t NaMo TV Governed By News Broadcast Rules?
Let’s assume, NaMo TV is an online TV channel, and its feed is being broadcast on TV. Even then, there is precedence for news broadcast rules being applied to news content.
While digital news websites were understood to not be covered by broadcast rules, a digital news website, selling a portion of its stake to a foreign company in 2014, was asked to seek the approval of the Foreign Investment Promotion Board (FIPB). The government’s argument then was, that even if digital, if its news and current affairs, news broadcast rules apply.
So, why is NaMo TV an exception? Our guess is as good as yours.
When Was NaMo TV Launched?
In a similar avatar, in Gujarat, in 2012 – that is if the two channels are the same.
A channel named NaMo TV was launched in October 2012, a day after Assembly elections were declared in the state. It was shut down a day later, pending clearances by the Election Commission. NaMo Gujarat highlighted Modi’s achievements and was aired on cable networks, DTH and digital TV.
However, the Election Commission imposed certain restrictions on it. All political ads on the channel had to be cleared by the Media Certification and Monitoring Committee (MCMC) and the District Electoral Officer was asked to ensure that the channel followed the Model Code of Conduct. It also said that the channel’s expenses will have to be accounted for by the BJP in the party’s expenditure.
A 2012 Daily Bhaskar report said the NaMo TV project was supervised by the then Gujarat minister Saurabh Patel and BJP leader Parindu Bhagat.
However, it remains unclear whether this NaMo TV is the same. Remember, we have no idea about who owns the channel yet.
So What is the Government’s Response Over NaMo TV?
Responding to EC's notice, the I&B Ministry has said that NaMo TV is an advertisement platform launched by DTH service providers and it does not require the government's nod, according to sources as quoted by the media.
The reply by the I&B Ministry further added that the channel has been rented by a political party for a period of time and "is out of its ambit."
“It is out of the I&B ministry’s ambit as of now. For instance, many digital platforms are not governed by any regulation at present... They are not governed by either the I&B ministry or the ministry of electronics and IT. So this can be compared to that,” the source claimed.
The ministry has also said that NaMo TV is not a regular channel and it does not figure in the official list of approved channels.
Is the Government Breaking Its Own Rules?
That’s what it looks like.
How does a political channel focused on the prime minister of the country, which is not on I&B’s list of permitted private satellite TV channels, get broadcast on all major DTH platforms, without any licence that too?
The EC has demanded an explanation from the Information and Broadcasting Ministry. But when it’s clear that the channel is openly breaking all rules and is blatantly violating the Model Code of Conduct, is merely asking for an explanation enough?