A new channel NaMo TV which went on air early last week as a free-to-air channel has already generated a lot of interest and some intense scrutiny. The channel which airs rallies and speeches of Narendra Modi does not feature in the list of licensed private satellite television channels in the country and details of its ownership remain shrouded in mystery.
NaMo TV went on air on March 26 on major direct-to-home (DTH) services providers - Videocon, Tata Sky and DishTV. Five days after its launch on the said DTH providers, the official handle of the ruling Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) tweeted about its launch and said, "Capture the colours of elections… Watch the dance of democracy… Say NaMo again with NaMo TV. Tune in to get real time coverage of PM Modi's election campaign and a lot more fascinating content."
The tweet announced that the channel was available on five DTH services.
The channel has Narendra Modi's photo on its logo with NaMo TV written below. NaMo TV has to date aired old rallies of PM Modi, his recent rally in Arunachal Pradesh and has also shown a movie on Subhash Chandra Bose, 'Bose: The Forgotten Hero'. The channel also has a continuous ticker with lines from Modi's speeches scrolling on the screen.
In between Modi's rallies and speeches, the channel has a special broadcast of Arun Jaitley, Minister for Finance and Corporate Affairs speaking about the achievements of the BJP. The channel also airs advertisements between broadcasting rallies. All the advertisements are related to the BJP including a recent advertisement on 'Main Bhi Chowkidar'.
BOOM checked the website of the Ministry of Information and Broadcasting (I&B) which lists 'Permitted Private Satellite TV Channels' on its website. This comprehensive list allows users to check details like company name, address of the company, validity of permission and the category under which the channel has registered.
A search for 'NaMo TV', 'Narendra Modi TV', 'NaMo' yields no details for the said channel.
The website has the list of all permitted satellite channels updated till March 31, 2019.
BOOM has written to Amit Katoch, Director, Broadcasting Wing, Ministry of I&B seeking details about NaMo TV but is yet to receive a reply.
NaMo TV channel is currently free-to-air on DTH services, meaning subscribers do not have to pay to view the channel.
NEWS CHANNEL OR AN AD SALES CHANNEL?
NaMo TV which does not appear in the list of licensed TV channels, has created confusion among DTH service providers. NaMo TV currently airs on three channels of each DTH service provider.
On Tata Sky the channel numbers are 512, 324 and 145. On DishTV, NaMo TV airs on channel numbers 111, 354, 770 and on Videocon, NaMo TV airs on channel number 102, 202 and 302.
BOOM found that on Tata SKY, channel number 512 which is now NaMo TV was earlier called 'Content TV'. BOOM contacted a Tata Sky spokesperson about the name change who said, "It was earlier NaMo TV. Only the name was changed. But we don't know why."
When asked what was the nature of the channel - whether it was a news channel, entertainment channel or an ad sales channel, the spokesperson responded, "Tata Sky has its own channel for ad sales. We cannot have any ad sales channel apart from this according to our company policies and guidelines."
This reply falls in line with a tweet from Tata Sky's official Twitter handle to a query raised by a user who asked, "I just wanted to know what this newly introduced channel no 512 is all about?" To this Tata Sky replied, "Channel no 512 is NAMO TV, it is a Hindi news service which provides the latest breaking news on national politics ^Rudra"
On most DTH service providers, the channel appears under the 'entertainment section'. In fact, on Tata Sky, the three channels -- 512, 324 and 145 appear in three different sections News Hindi, Movies Hindi and Entertainment Hindi.
Surprisingly, in a story by NDTV, Harit Nagpal, CEO Tata Sky has contradicted his own platform's tweet, calling it a "mistake". Nagpal, told NDTV, "NaMo TV is not a Hindi news service. If someone in the frontline at Tata Sky has tweeted or said that it is a news service, it is a mistake. "NaMo TV does not fall into any genre" and the feed is "coming from the BJP via Internet. Special services do not need a license."
BOOM also contacted DishTV whose response was contrary to Tata Sky's reply. The DishTV spokesperson said, "The channel is as ad sales service which means that they are not registered as entertainment or news on our service. They are registered as a channel showing advertisements or sales services."
BOOM has written to Tata Sky and DishTV with a detailed questionnaire about the ownership and nature of NaMo TV, but is yet to receive a response.
How Legal Is NaMo TV?
Following the airing of the channel, Congress and the Aam Aadmi Party have filed complaints with the Election Commission (EC) claiming NaMo TV violates the Model Code of Conduct. The EC in return wrote to the I&B ministry seeking a response regarding the airing of the channel so close to the Lok Sabha elections.
The Model Code of Conduct came into force on March 10.
BOOM also contacted Abhinav Shrivastava, Counsel with LawNK, a law firm based in Bangalore to know the process of channel licensing and content regulation. Shrivastava explained the role of Ministry of Information and Broadcasting in airing of channels and the difference between a 'News channel' and a General Entertainment channel.
"When a channel applies for uplinking permission it has to inform whether it intends to be a news channel or a general entertainment channel. If it is a news channel, then it has to adhere to a high minimum net worth requirement and be accredited with the Press Information Bureau. Everything else is an general entertainment channel," Shrivastava explained.
A report in India Today says that the I&B has informed EC that "NaMo TV is not a licenced channel but a direct-to-home advertisement platform." There has been no official word from the EC regarding the channel.
Interestingly, in 2012, when Modi was the chief minister of Gujarat, a channel named NaMo Gujarat started airing on for viewers. According to media reports, the channel was first aired in October 2012, a few months before the Gujarat assembly elections.
A report in Business Standard says that the channel was aired by a "company called New Hope Infotainment incorporated in 2012" and promoted by Sujay Mehta from Gujarat.
A search for New Hope Infotainment does not yield any results on the I&B site. Neither are there details for NaMo TV that aired in 2012.
While some reports say the channel was called NaMo TV, others call the channel, NaMo Gujarat TV. The 2012 channel aired the same content as the current NaMo TV, led by speeches of Modi in Gujarat and achievements of the Modi government in Gujarat.
A story published by NDTV in 2012, describes the then NaMo TV channel as "BJP funded". The story also quotes then BJP spokesperson Bharat Pandya as saying, "Modi's rivals have launched a fallacious campaign to bring him down so we felt the need for a channel that would project the truth - give voice to the BJP workers and highlight the immense work that the chief minister had done for his homeland."
(Additional reporting by Anmol Alphonso)