The new channel NaMo TV has been at the centre of controversy during the poll season, with the Aam Aadmi Party and the Congress submitting complaints against it with the Election Commission. As reported in The Indian Express last week, the Information & Broadcasting Ministry is learnt to have responded to the EC that NaMo TV does not fall under its purview since it is functioning as a special platform for DTH (direct-to-home) operators. Read in Bengali
So, what is NaMo TV, and what is the controversy around it?
The channel, also briefly named Content TV, emerged across major DTH platforms nationwide over the last fortnight. The channel is dedicated to speeches of Prime Minister Narendra Modi. In its complaint to the EC, AAP sought to know how permission was granted to a party to launch its own TV channel after the Model Code of Conduct was enforced. Separately, the Congress questioned if it had got clearance from the I&B Ministry.
The channel is listed among Hindi News channels on some DTH platforms. However, no such channel is mentioned in the list of channels permitted by the I&B Ministry. All satellite-based channels require the ministry’s permission to be downlinked in the country irrespective of the content, or the platform it is available on.
How is this channel allowed, then?
The I&B Ministry has apparently told the Election Commission that NaMo TV is a ‘platform service’. For such services, I&B permission is not necessary.
And what is a platform service?
There are several ways that viewers can receive a channel on their TV — cable TV services that can be received through Multi-System Operators and/or Local Cable Operators, DTH services, Internet Protocol Television services, Headend-in-the-Sky, and terrestrial TV services in smaller geographic regions. Together they are called Distribution Platform Operators (DPOs).
Again, there are four types of channels on TV: private satellite channels, which are broadcast through satellites and need I&B permissions; Doordarshan channels run by public broadcaster Prasar Bharati; platform services channels, which are owned and operated by the DPOs and distributed exclusively to their own subscribers; ground-based channels that come with a strong local focus and are referred to as “local channels”, usually an integral part of most cable TV networks.
Platform services are certain channels that are provided by local cable operators and DTH operators, exclusively to their own viewers. These are not offered by broadcasters (those that run satellite-based channels) and are outside the purview of regulations currently. On the other hand, satellite-based channels can only be broadcast if they are registered with the Government of India, which means these have the I&B permissions.
Platform services were defined by the Telecom Regulatory Authority of India during a consultation on them in 2014 as: “Platform services (PS) are programs transmitted by Distribution Platform Operators (DPOs) exclusively to their own subscribers and does not include Doordarshan channels and registered TV channels. PS shall not include foreign TV channels that are not registered in India.”
What can come under such services?
Local cable operators often use such channels to show content relevant to their geographical area, and which includes local news. DTH operators, however, have used such platform services to offer subscribers access to content ‘on demand’, like movies-on-demand, video-on-demand, pay-per-view, and interactive services such as games, education, etc., which are paid for by the subscribers.
Is NaMo TV a platform service?
While platform services have traditionally been exclusive offerings by each DTH operator, NaMo TV is available across DTH operators in the country. During the consultation processes of TRAI, in 2014 and earlier in 2006, DTH operators had argued against special regulations for such services. However, in 2014, TRAI recommended broad regulations for these services, regardless of whether they are owned by local cable operators or DTH service providers. In these recommendations, TRAI said that all such services must be registered by the operator with the I&B Ministry along with the name of the entity, details of the company that is running the service and its beneficial owners. TRAI had also recommended that platform services should not be allowed to be shared with other networks (NaMo TV is running across many networks). No laws for platform services have, however, come into effect yet.
Are such services not regulated at all?
Since these services do not require permissions from the I&B Ministry, they cannot be punished by that Ministry, which can take action only against conventional channels listed with it. However, regardless of who owns the service, two laws are still applicable: restrictions on free speech mentioned in Article 19 of the Constitution would come into play about what is being shown on such platform services, regardless of whether it is registered with the I&B Ministry or not; and the content on such services has to comply with the Advertisement and the Programme Codes of the Cable TV Act, 1994.