Doordarshan News told the Election Commission on April 5 that its channels had given the ruling Bharatiya Janata Party around 160 hours of airtime coverage in the weeks since the announcement of elections, while the main Opposition party, the Congress, got only 80 hours, The Indian Express reported.

The report gave details on the airtime provided to political parties from the announcement of the elections till April 5. Based on this report, the Election Commission on April 9 said the airtime coverage given by DD News was “disproportionate and not balanced”. The poll panel asked the Information and Broadcasting Ministry to direct DD News to “desist from extending any preferential or disproportionate airtime coverage in favour of any party”.

Prasar Bharati’s Chief Executive Officer Shashi Shekhar Vempati told The Indian Express said the public broadcaster has taken note of the poll panel’s observations on proportion of coverage. “Coverage is a continuous process spanning the entire network of more than 30 TV channel/stations and several 100 radio stations,” Vempati said. “It would be flawed and inaccurate to draw inferences from a snapshot at any given point in time.”

Vempati said the entire network has been sensitised to the poll body’s observations and a committee has been set up for editorial supervision and monitoring. He said data will be collected periodically and shared with the Election Commission.

Vempati said newsworthiness is an important consideration in editorial business as the public broadcaster has to compete with private broadcasters for viewership and listenership. “However every effort will be made to ensure balance and compliance while discharging our mandate as required by the [Prasar Bharati] Act and complying with the Election Commission’s observations and comments,” he said.

Vempati cited Section 12 2(b) of the Prasar Bharati Act which mandates the broadcaster to safeguard citizens’ right to be informed freely, truthfully and objectively on all matters of public interest, national or international, and presenting a fair and balanced flow of information including contrasting views without advocating any opinion or ideology of its own.

An unidentified official at DD News justified the break-up in airtime coverage, saying the the BJP has a majority of the seats in the Lok Sabha and is in power in 16 states. The official said both parties could not be on an equal footing. “But if a comparison is made between the BJP and all opposition parties combined, the airtime given is balanced,” the official said.

The Congress had asked the poll panel on April 1 to issue urgent and necessary directions to the Information and Broadcasting Ministry and Prasar Bharati and to take action against Modi and the Bharatiya Janata Party for “using government-owned news channels as a tool to promote and advertise their election campaign”. The party’s move came after Prime Minister Narendra Modi’s “Main bhi Chowkidar” was telecast on DD News.