The last thing you would think Prime Minister Narendra Modi would need is another TV channel singing his praises. After all, much of the broadcast news media, in English and Hindi, already spends much of its time defending his government and criticising the Opposition. It says something about the thinking of Modi and the Bharatiya Janata Party that despite this, they still feel the need to carpetbomb Indian voters with propaganda, the latest launch vehicle for their efforts being NaMo TV.
What is NaMo TV? Well, it’s unclear. As far as the viewer is concerned, it’s a television channel that appears on Direct-to-Home services like Tata Sky. It features an unending stream of Narendra Modi’s speeches and other pro-BJP material, not unlike some other news channels. But you cannot get rid of it.
From a regulatory standpoint, it is something of a chimera. On Wednesday, ThePrint reported that NaMo TV had been on air for a week despite not having a broadcast licence, not having a compulsory security clearance or indeed any permission from the government. In fact,it turned up on air without having even having applied for permission,.
Remember, the Indian broadcast market is still tightly controlled. Existing channels have to apply to the government to even change their names or logos. Last year for example, it was reported that the Information & Broadcasting Ministry, which oversees this sector, issued only six licences over nine months and was sitting on 130 proposals for new channels.
By that measure, it is extremely suspicious for an entirely new channel to appear on screens, with no security clearance or licence, that too while the model code of conduct is in place ahead of elections. The Election Commission, following complaints from the Congress and the Aam Aadmi Party, is looking into the matter and had asked the ministry for its opinion on the channel.
The answer? It’s not a channel at all. Tata Sky had originally told a user on Twitter that it was a Hindi news service. But several reports now say that the Information and Broadcasting Ministry has informed the Election Commission that NaMo TV is operating as a “special platform” on the several Direct-to-Home services. These channels are usually run by DTH operators themselves – think of the “help” channel on Tata Sky, for example – and so do not need permission from the ministry. As per this answer, NaMo TV essentially counts as advertising and should be reflected in the campaign expenses of the BJP.
Jumping through a loophole
This response is somewhat remarkable. It is almost certain that the government would not be quite so laissez-faire about the matter if another political party had attempted this regulatory innovation. Worse, it is also admitting to a legal loophole that practically anyone can now take advantage of: what is to stop one of the many channels that has not been given a licence from simply asking to be considered a “special platform” instead?
Of course, it is quite likely that the DTH operators only acquiesced to such an arrangement because the demand came from the ruling BJP. This means it is unlikely that everyone would be allowed to use this loophole. Besides, it may not be a loophole at all. Experts are still suggesting that the arrangement falls afoul of India’s broadcast laws.
More than anything, though, it reflects this government’s approach to law and order. When it comes to anyone else, the government is extremely trigger-happy (often attempting to use laws even where they do not apply). But when it comes to achieving its own aims, regulations seem like a mirage.
This should put to rest any pretence that the BJP is operating in a fair manner, not least because the Election Commission has spent the last day cautioning various individuals, all connected to the BJP, for violating the model code. Modi keeps insisting that he is the only option for the Indian voter, who, he says, has already decided to choose him to stay in office. If that is the case, what is the need for all this rule-breaking, code-violating extra publicity?