New Delhi: NaMo TV, a channel named after the prime minister, has been on air for a week now but never applied for a broadcast licence, highly-placed government sources told ThePrint.
It also does not have a compulsory security clearance and this makes the enterprise illegal under broadcast laws.
An official in the Information and Broadcasting ministry said it is possibly a first in the history of broadcasting in India that a channel had gone on air without any permission from the government or even applying for it.
“There have been instances of cable operators airing Pakistani or Chinese channels without permission in some places but this is possibly the first time when an Indian television channel, possibly owned by a politician or a political party, has gone on air without any permission,” the I&B ministry official said.
Since it has not applied for a licence, not much is known about the ownership of NaMo TV and the teleport or system that is being used for uplinking/downlinking the channel. There is also no clarity on whether the channel has been classified as news or non-news, which in turn has a bearing on the amount of security deposit that it has to pay to the government.
The channel also does not feature on the list of permitted channels, issued by the I&B, as of 31 March.
“There are several channels that do not feature in the list because they were either not permitted a license or the process is underway, but in this case, permissions were never sought,” the I&B ministry official added.
NaMo TV, a channel covering Prime Minister Narendra Modi’s speeches and election rallies, went on air last week after election dates were announced and is available on all prominent DTH platforms.
Top sources said the I&B ministry is in a fix over what action to take against the channel. It is learnt that the ministry is considering issuing a notice to DTH operators for carrying an unauthorised channel.
ThePrint contacted the I&B ministry spokesperson and its secretary Amit Khare but received no response until the time of publishing this report.
ThePrint also contacted BJP spokesperson Nalin Kohli for information about NaMo TV. Kohli advised this reporter to speak to the party’s social media head Amit Malviya. Malviya didn’t respond to calls or messages.
The report will be updated when they respond.
Breach of security
Multiple sources have corroborated to ThePrint that NaMo TV being on air without clearances is a breach of security as granting of a license to any channel is a multilayered, foolproof, process involving several ministries, including the ministries of Information & Broadcasting (I&B), Home Affairs and Department of Space.
Under the process, the owner has to apply to the I&B ministry seeking a licence to start a television channel.
The name of the channel’s owner, the company owning the channel and the logo of the channel has to be specified in the application. The permission is issued for a period of 10 years after security clearance from the home ministry and a subsequent green signal from the Department of Space.
After the permission is issued, the channel applies to the Wireless Planning and Coordination Wing of the Department of Telecommunications for allocation of the frequency of the respective teleport.
Only a company registered under the Indian Companies Act is eligible to apply for permission for either a news and current affairs channel or a non-news channel.
Fresh security clearance is required for renewal of any channel.
“The reason for such a stringent security clearance process is to weed out any suspicious entities from broadcasting in India,” a government official said. “As part of the security check, the entire background check of the owners and company applying for the license is carried out.”
In fact, the security clearance process was so complicated and tedious, that the government had suggested simplifying it on multiple requests from the industry for the sake of ease of doing business.
The process had also drawn criticism over the years for political favouritism or interference over granting of licenses.
Channel under EC scanner
On Wednesday, The Economic Times reported that the Election Commission had sought a report from the I&B ministry over the launch of NaMo TV. The report quoted sources as saying that the government will tell the EC that it is an advertising platform and not a permitted channel.
Ministry sources, however, told ThePrint that for it to even feature in its current form as a channel, it is required to take permissions.
The EC’s action came after the Congress complained to the poll watchdog, alleging that Rule 7(3) of the Cable Television Networks Rules, 1994 was violated in the launch of the channel and there were also violations of several sections of the Representation of the People Act, 1951, as well as the poll panel’s instructions against government-funded advertisements or surrogate advertising in favour of political parties or candidates.
Industry sources said that multiple system operators (MSOs) have been informally asked to feature the channel prominently.
It is currently available on DTH platforms such as Tata Sky, Airtel Digital TV, Dish TV, and cable TV network Siti Networks. In some DTH platforms, the channel is available under multiple categories like news and movies, making it unclear what category it is under.