NEWS
04/04/2019 5:32 PM IST | Updated 04/04/2019 5:42 PM IST

What On Earth Is Going On With NaMo TV?

The BJP says it is not running the channel but has been tweeting about it. Customers say they haven't chosen it but can't opt out.

Hindustan Times via Getty Images

If you’ve been flipping channels on your TV, you may have noticed a new channel on the list, popping seemingly out of nowhere: NaMo TV.

The channel, named after Prime Minister Narendra Modi, has caused a stir among opposition parties, who argue that it violates the poll code, and customers, who say they haven’t subscribed to it and can’t delete it .

The channel has been broadcasting election rallies and speeches of Modi and interviews with BJP leaders.

The BJP, however, says it is not running the channel.

But on the day the channel was launched, Modi tweeted: 

Confused?

Allow us to explain ☝🏽.

What is NaMo TV?

The channel, which carries the picture of Modi on its logo, was launched on 31 March, nearly two weeks after the Model Code of Conduct came into effect and ahead of the Lok Sabha polls beginning April 11.

It is available on various DTH and cable TV platforms, with some categorising it as news and others under movies. 

On Thursday, Tata Sky called it a “Hindi news service which provides the latest breaking news on national politics” while replying to a customer on Twitter.

The DTH service provider also said that the channel had been “added to all subscribers as a launch offer”. It said there was “no option to delete the individual channel”.

Is this even legal?

Government sources told The Print that NaMo TV did not apply for a broadcast licence. The channel also did not have a compulsory security clearance which makes it illegal under broadcast laws, the report said.

It may be the only channel to have gone on air without applying for or getting any permission from the government, an Information and Broadcasting ministry official told The Print.

Meanwhile, NDTV says its sources in the Information and Broadcasting ministry have told the news channel that NaMo TV was an “advertising platform” which did not need the government’s approval for telecast. 

The EC issued a notice to the ministry after complaints from the opposition.

In its reply to the EC, the ministry is likely to take the line that it is an advertisement channel which does not require prior permission and is run on certain DTH channels on payment made by the BJP, government sources told PTI.

Sources in the ministry told PTI they had not come across a file seeking uplinking and downlinking permission for the channel.

What is BJP saying, officially?

According to PTI, BJP maintains that it does not own the channel or the platform, but its official Twitter handle has urged people to watch it to follow the prime minister’s election campaign.

Union minister Piyush Goyal also tweeted about the channel number while asking viewers to watch the prime minister’s events.

And BJP president Shah has been promoting his own programmes:

Is the EC doing anything?

The EC has issued a notice seeking a report from the I&B ministry on the channel after opposition parties, including the Congress, asked the poll body to direct the ministry to suspend the channel as it was violating the poll code.

The EC had given the ministry time till Friday evening according to the ministry’s request, to submit a report on the channel and its launch, sources told PTI.

The Commission will take a call on whether it violated the model code after going through the documents the ministry files, the sources added.

What is the Opposition complaining about?

Hours after the EC issued a notice to the I&B Ministry, the Congress accused Modi of mocking and trampling upon democratic norms by “brazenly” running NaMo TV and asked the poll watchdog to put a stop to this “misuse” of media that seeks to disturb the level-playing field during elections.

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.

“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 Aam Aadmi Party also complained to the EC and has asked 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.

So, um, how many violations does that make it?

So far, the Railway ministry has been pulled for serving tea in paper cups that said ‘Main Bhi Chowkidar’. The Civil Aviation ministry has been pulled up for use of boarding passes that had Modi’s face printed on it.

The EC has also written to Doordarshan separately for telecasting live Modi’s “Main bhi chowkidar” programme on 31 March evening for an hour.

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.

Modi’s address to the country on Mission Shakti had been given a clean chit by the commission, but hinted that the broadcast may have been against the spirit of the poll code.

Meanwhile, the Supreme Court will on Monday hear a plea against the release of the Modi biopic PM Narendra Modi, starring Vivek Oberoi, which Opposition leaders have called a propaganda film.

(With PTI inputs)