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The Curious Case Of NaMo TV

NaMo TV, India’s newest television channel, covers Prime Minister Narendra Modi’s election rallies, speeches and promotional events. Launched about a week ago, the channel doesn’t appear on the Information and Broadcasting ministry’s list of 901 satellite TV channels. So how is it on air?

BloombergQuint spoke to former Information and Broadcasting Secretary Jawhar Sircar and Supreme Court Advocate Apar Gupta to find answers to some of these questions.

NaMo TV, according to Sircar, is linking directly with direct-to-home and cable operators, circumventing the existing broadcasting laws and procedures. Wireless airwaves in India are allocated by the Wireless Planning and Coordination wing of the Department of Telecommunications, which are governed by the Wireless Act and Telecom Regulatory Authority of India regulations, Sircar said. “If NaMo TV is circumventing these rules, it’s exposing a chink in the law which needs to be checked.”

As for ownership of news channels, there are many channels that are owned/partly owned by political parties or people affiliated with them, such as Sun TV, Jaya TV, Republic, Tirangaa, among others.

The difference, according to Apar Gupta, is in the procedure or the lack of it and the observance of a legal standard for everyone with similar operations. Channels, regardless of their political affiliation or ideological views, have to go through a rigorous process, Gupta said. “There are checks and balances like the name of the channel, capital adequacy of the owners, background checks of the management, disclosure of funding and shareholding,” he said. “All this is followed by a security clearance by the Home Ministry. NaMo TV seemed to have bypassed this process.”

Questions have also been raised on the type of channel that NaMo TV is. Public queries on microblogging platform Twitter had Tata Sky calling the channel a “Hindi news service” providing the latest breaking news on national politics.

But in an interview to NDTV, Harit Nagpal, chief executive officer at Tata Sky said NaMo TV was a “special services channel”, and not a regular channel.

Gupta, however, said there’s nothing like a special service. This, according to him, is more of a circumvention of rules which isn’t in the spirit of broadcasting.

Sircar, who was also the former chief executive officer of Prasar Bharti, questioned NaMo TV’s classification. “How does it fit in with TRAI’s much-publicised regulation?” The telecom regulator came out with regulations pertaining to the distribution of television channels in February.

The Opposition too has cried foul over the timing of the channel’s launch and its content. The Election Commission has sought a response from the Information and Broadcasting ministry but Sircar said the poll watchdog is not doing enough. The Election Commission lacks the courage to take strong and bold steps, he said. “An Election Commission should be seen as something strong and impartial. A very good referee.”

The launch of NaMo TV may not be in violation of the Model Code of Conduct but it’s certainly in violation of India’s broadcasting laws, Gupta said. The Election Commission’s actions hold more importance as they will determine how seriously the issue is being looked at, he said. ―Bloomberg Quint

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