The Election Commission (EC) has issued a notice seeking a report from the I&B Ministry on NaMo TV, launched just weeks ahead of the general election, after opposition parties, including the Congress, asked the poll body to direct the ministry to suspend the channel as it was violative of the Model Code of Conduct.
Sources said the EC had issued the notice to the Information and Broadcasting Secretary on Tuesday evening, giving time till Friday evening according to the ministry’s request, to submit a report on the channel and its launch.
The EC will take a call on whether it violated the model code after going through the documents the ministry files, the sources added.
Sources in the ministry said they had not come across a file seeking to uplink and downlink permission for the channel.
Hours after the EC issued notice to the I&B Ministry, the Congress accused Prime Minister Narendra Modi of mocking and trampling upon democratic norms by “brazenly” running NaMo TV and asked the poll watchdog to put a stop at this “misuse” of media that seeks to disturb the level-playing field during elections.
The channel carries the picture of Modi on its logo. It was launched on March 31, nearly two weeks after the Model Code of Conduct came into effect and ahead of the Lok Sabha polls beginning April 11.
Soon after the launch, Prime Narendra Modi posted a tweet urging people to watch his interaction with chowkidars live on NaMoTV.
The day we were most looking forward to is here!
At 5 PM, lakhs of Chowkidars from different parts of India will interact in the historic #MainBhiChowkidar programme.
This is an interaction you must not miss.
Watch it live on the NaMoApp or NaMo TV. pic.twitter.com/XXKkLUuE7X
— Chowkidar Narendra Modi (@narendramodi) March 31, 2019
The channel, available on various DTH and cable TV platforms, broadcast election rallies, speeches of the prime minister and interviews of BJP leaders.
Earlier, DTH service provider Tata Sky in a tweet had said that the NAMO TV is a “Hindi news service” which provides the latest breaking news on national politics.
Channel no 512 is NAMO TV, it is a Hindi news service which provides the latest breaking news on national politics ^Rudra
— Tata Sky (@TataSky) March 28, 2019
Maintaining that “the contents are being broadcast in complete violation of the rules and regulations of cable televisions”, the Congress, in its complaint, said the Union ministry’s list of permitted private satellite channels in the country did not mention NaMo TV, so either the channel “Content TV” is being broadcast as a “government-sponsored channel” or lacks official clearance from the ministry.
The Aam Aadmi Party (AAP) also complained to the EC, saying the BJP had launched the channel and though a party could have its own channel, it asked the EC if permission could be granted “even after the Model Code of Conduct is enforced”.
Though the ruling BJP has maintained that it does not own the channel or the platform, its official Twitter handle had urged people to watch it for the prime minister’s election campaign.
Union minister Piyush Goyal had also tweeted about the channel number while asking viewers to watch the prime minister’s events.
“Prime Minister Narendra Modi is trampling upon democratic norms in India by running brazenly and blatantly ‘NaMo TV’. Isn’t the prime minister mocking the Constitution as also every democratic norm?,” Congress’s chief spokesperson Randeep Surjewala asked.
He said by running ‘NaMo TV’ as an affront to the rule of law, Modi and the BJP were mocking the powers of superintendence and control of election of the EC under Article 324 of the Constitution.
The Arvind Kejriwal-led AAP had recently asked the EC if the BJP had sought an approval for the launch of the channel.
“Can permission be granted to a party to have its own TV channel, even after the model code is enforced? If no permission was given by the ECI, then what action has been taken?” the party had asked in its letter to the poll panel.
According to government sources, the ministry is likely to take a line that it is an advertisement channel which does not require prior permission and it is run on certain DTH channels on payment made by the BJP.
However, when contacted, there was no immediate reaction from the BJP.
The AAP also asked if the BJP had approached the Media Certification Committee, established to certify content and cost of a telecast.
The EC has also learnt to have written separately to Doordarshan for telecasting live the “Main Bhi chowkidar” programme of Modi on March 31 evening for an hour.
The Congress had written to the EC against the BJP’s alleged “misuse” of Doordarshan in broadcasting certain speeches by Modi.
The “Main Bhi Chowkidar” programme of the prime minister was broadcast live on DD News and its YouTube channel, and was even promoted on the social media handles of DD News, the Congress memorandum said.