The Election Commission banned NaMo TV, a web based online TV channel promoting Narendra Modi, on 11 April along with the biopic on the PM and a web series. “Modi: Journey of a common Man ‘being shown on Eros Now OTT. The order said any poster or publicity material concerning any such certified content, which either depicts candidate (including prospective) for the further (or purported to further) of electoral prospects, directly or indirectly, shall not be put on display in electronic media in the area where MCC is inforce”
Even doordarshan was pulled up by the EC for giving out of proportion coverage to BJP and PM Modi in comparison to other political parties.
This general election, if anything is greatly used or misused; it is media – the fourth pillar of democracy. While we have been witnessing lots of jingoism, fake news, paid news, and edited version of stories being covered by news channels mostly owned by groups affiliated to different political parties, one curious case was of NaMo TV which emerged out of the blue on 31st March, day after the Model code of conduct was enforced on 11 March.
When the Election Commission asked the explanation of MIB, it replied that ‘NaMo TV’, a channel run on all DTH platforms with the Prime Minister’s picture as the brand logo, is a “special service” broadcast channel. It therefore requires no licence or permission from the government.
As per BJP, NaMo TV is part of such a “special services” bouquet. Therefore, the channel does not need a licence to uplink-downlink via satellite, permissions that all news channels mandatorily need from the I&B ministry.
Now the question is – Who are the owners of NaMo TV? And is it ethical to allow it? Modi, in an interview with ABP TV, said, “I am told some people have launched a channel though I have not had time to see it myself.”
If PM does not own it, who owns it?
Most of the DTH platforms such as Tata Sky, Airtel and Dish TV are openly telecasting the channel. As per many analysts, it is surprising for a DTH operator to allow a third party channel as with NaMo TV, to use its own brand logo (Modi’s face) on a special services platform. Therefore, it seems to be an exclusive favour to the ruling party.
Recently, Tata Sky referred to NaMo TV as a Hindi news service, which it quickly withdrew. It later said it was a special service or an advertising channel. However, even if it is an advertising channel, it is governed by the Indian Cable TV Network Act of 1995, which include norms for advertising programmes run through cable TV.
Ms. Roop Sharma, President of the Cable Operator Federation of India said, “As you know, there are restrictions on political content even on advertising programmes. It should be examined whether an advertising channel running partisan political content passes the test of the Cable TV Network Act.”
All election related ads need a certificate from the Election Commission. So, if a political party buys ten slots of advertising on any channel, it will require a certificate for each slot from the EC. And NaMo TV runs round the clock.
Blatant violations of TRAI’s Recommendations:
As you may remember, former TRAI chairman Rahul Khullar had said in 2014 that several thousand local channels were proliferating across the country without any license or permission from the I&B ministry. These channels were pushing local content through the underground fibre network and were not subjected to any norms whatsoever.”
In August 2014, TRAI had released its recommendations on media ownership. The recommendations covered a comprehensive definition for control, cross-media ownership, vertical integration and internal plurality.
TRAI had also enquired with the I&B ministry many times on whether it had decided on the recommendations made by the sector regulator, but the only answer it receives is that the government will take the final call at the appropriate time.
As per TRAI’s recommendations, there should be a ban on political parties and other public-funded bodies from owning TV channels and distribution platforms (cable TV, DTH, etc.).The MIB has not accepted or rejected the recommendations, which means the recommendations were put on the back burner.
As per MIB official, “We are aware of the recommendations made by TRAI and these things need time. The ministry doesn’t work on the timelines of media.”
DTH companies which are benefitting at the cost of local cable operators, do not want government’s entry in this business as they think it would keep away investors from the segment and may stop growth.
All ethics go down:
The ruling party has no intension to honour the TRAI’s recommendations, as all parties know that media is must to mould the public opinion. Someone has rightly said that a lie, told hundred times, becomes a truth. This is what is happening with our media which almost looks sold to the parties. Reporters and anchors are in fact sales personnel selling what they are told by their masters to sell. They will not allow public to have their own views; instead they want their views to prevail over others.
In the pursuit of moulding public opinions, films on leaders like Manmohan Singh and Modi are also on the offering. The release of biopics Prime Minister Narendra Modi and My Name is RaGa have invited political wraths from opposing parties.
There has been massive violation of the model code of conduct (MCC) through the innovative ways by all political parties, eyeing greater vote share.
Mission Shakti, the ballistic missile defence interceptor launched by DRDO on March 27, is another ploy to win public opinion towards the ruling party, though we must laud the scientists’ efforts in achieving the feat. The question is about the timing of the launch. The EC has clarified that Modi did not violate the MCC by addressing the nation after the launch.
Parties are also spending massive sums on platforms like Facebook, Twitter, ShareChat, TikTok, though the Madras High Court has recently asked Centre to ban TikTok downloads.
PM Modi’s prefix ‘Main Bhi Chowkidar’ has too brought the ire of the opposition parties which left no stone unturned to mock the campaign.
While the ECI keeps a tab on these activities through many ways including an app cVIGIL, everything seems less in front of the highly inventive tricks by political parties. The violations of the code continue unabated.
Civil Society demands cap on spending on media:
Ahead of election, civil society and digital rights groups wrote to the ECI to monitor not only digital platforms like Google and Facebook but, more importantly, the spending by political parties on online campaigning, as it would help safeguard the integrity of the electoral process.
The list of groups include Common Cause, Constitutional Conduct Group, Internet Freedom Foundation, Free Software Movement of India, Association for Democratic Reforms, several former public servants as well as former Chief Election Commissioners, N Gopalaswami and SY Quraishi — released a statement and a Call For Action.
While the debate continues on the misuse of media for election, gains, we need to seriously think of ways how to free media from political patronage and have a fair election in place. It would take time, but the task is not impossible.