THE launch of NaMo TV without obtaining requisite permissions and broadcasting license from the Ministry of Information and Technology (I&B) is a blatant violation of the laws of the land.
The TV channel which was launched on March 31, 2019 is dedicated solely to Prime Minister Narendra Modi’s speeches and rallies. The Information and Broadcasting (I&B) ministry claimed that NaMo TV was a “special service”. – an advertising platform with direct-to-home service providers like DishTV, TataSky, and Airtel, and therefore did not require any official permission. However, the I&B ministry has no explanation of how it allowed the broadcast of NaMo TV via satellite without the mandatory security clearance.
This is the first time in the history of broadcasting in India that a channel propagating a single political party’s agenda had gone on air without obtaining compulsory security clearance.
Violation of broadcasting laws
Under India’s broadcasting laws, channels cannot broadcast via satellite unless they obtain a license from the I&B ministry which in itself is a back-breaking task involving rigorous background checks and security clearances from the I&B ministry and the Home Ministry.
How did the I&B ministry allow this security breach at such a crucial time in the nation’s polity?
Officials of the I&B ministry claim that “special services advertising platforms” like NaMo TV fall in the category of “platform service” channels which do not require any licensing and therefore do not come under the regulation of the I&B ministry. But there is clear contradiction in the stand of the Ministry,
Under broadcasting laws, “platform service channels” cannot be aired through a satellite. Multiple sources have corroborated that NaMo TV channel broadcasts via a satellite.
“The Election Commission should ask this government who is the owner of this channel and ask the DTH operators how much money they have been paid for this. Whether this money is related to the Prime Minister Narendra Modi? There have been several reports in media that the channel is running by satellite – from where did they take permission? Are they using underground cables”?
Even if one admits that NaMo TV is a platform advertising channel and not a regular channel, how did was this channel, using a satellite, allowed to broadcast on multiple DTH service providers when it had no broadcast license, and never applied for one.
The Telecom Regulatory Authority of India (TRAI) in a consultation paper released in June, 2014 recommended that platform services must be registered by the operator with the I&B ministry along with the name of the entity, details of the company that is running the service and its beneficial owners. TRAI has also recommended that platform services not be allowed to be shared with other networks, which is exactly what NaMo TV is doing, running parallel broadcasts across various DTH service networks.
What is equally disconcerting is that there has been no action by the Election Commission, in what appears to be not just the contravention of broadcasting laws but also a violation of the Model Code of Conduct.
“The Election Commission should ask this government who is the owner of this channel and ask the DTH operators how much money they have been paid for this. Whether this money is related to the Prime Minister Narendra Modi? There have been several reports in media that the channel is running by satellite – from where did they take permission? Are they using underground cables”? senior journalist Paranjoy Guha Thakurta asked. Guha Thakurta has written extensively on the media, in particular its control by large corporations and the impact of this control on the free functioning of the fourth estate.
He said the government was clearly exploiting loopholes in India’s broadcasting laws to run a channel without permission and license. “The Election Commission should now act strongly against the government,” Guha Thakurta said while speaking to The Leaflet.
Violation of Model Code of Conduct
Section 126 of the Representation of People Act, 1950 prohibits political parties from taking out television or electronic advertisements 48 hours before an election. Section 126 reads as follows:
- Prohibition of public meetings during period of forty-eight hours ending with hours fixed for conclusion of poll—
- No person shall—
- convene, hold, attend, join or address any public meeting or procession in connection with an election; or
- display to the public any election matter by means of cinematograph, television or other similar apparatus; or
- propagate any election matter to the public by holding, or by arranging the holding of, any musical concert or any theatrical performance or any other entertainment or amusement with a view to attracting the members of the public thereto, in any polling area during the period of forty-eight hours ending with the hour fixed for the conclusion of the poll for any election in that polling area.
In this case, any electronic advertisement which runs before the 48 hours ban has to be “pre-certified” by the Election Commission and it is apparent that no such pre-certification has been done for NaMo TV given that the Election Commission become aware of the channel only when the opposition complained about it.
Supreme Court Advocate Virag Gupta told The Leaflet that the broadcast by NaMo TV was without any doubt a violation of the Model Code of Conduct.
He specifically mentioned three points, which he said needed to be considered by the Election Commission:
- If it is not a TV channel, then deemed advertisement expenses be noted against the party.
- This channel should be blocked during the silence period i.e. last 48 hours of each phase of election.
- If it is advertising, then content must be pre-certified by the Model Code of Conduct as per Election rules.
Has there been a security breach in allowing NaMo TV to broadcast? Will the Election Commission act against this clear violation of the Model Code of Conduct?