At 5 pm on Tuesday, 48 hours before voters in 91 constituencies across 20 states and Union Territories will conclude voting in the first phase of the General Election, the period of election silence kicked in, disallowing further campaigning in any form in the poll-bound constituencies by political parties.
But the channel that has been at the centre of a controversy for the last 10 days continued to beam into millions of households, including in constituencies that will vote on Thursday.
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NaMo TV was showing back-to-back speeches of Prime Minister Narendra Modi even after the 5-pm deadline. No action was initiated by the Election Commission (EC) until Tuesday night against the DTH operator or NaMo TV for violating the ‘election silence’ as provided under Section 126 of Representation of the People (RP) Act, 1951.
Explained | NaMo TV and the laws for DTH channels
According to sources, the EC has decided to add expenses incurred on advertising on NaMo TV to BJP’s expenditure account for Lok Sabha elections. There is no ceiling on how much political parties can spend on an election.
The Commission will also write to the office of the Delhi Chief Electoral Officer (CEO) to direct its Media Certification and Monitoring Commission (MCMC) to check whether political content aired on NaMo TV has been pre-certified, and the channel will also be monitored for any violation of the Model Code of Conduct, sources said.
Available across major DTH platforms in the country, the channel has apparently been called a “platform service” of the DTH operators by the Union Information and Broadcasting Ministry in its response to a notice from the EC. The I&B Ministry seems to have told EC that since it is a platform service offered by DTH operators, which does not require uplinking/ downlinking permissions from the government, it is out of its purview, and has left it to the election watchdog to take a call.
Regardless of it being a channel or a platform service, the continuation of Modi’s speeches may contravene aspects of the RP Act, 1951. Section 126 of the Act “prohibits” display of “any election matter by means of cinematograph, television or other similar apparatus” in the 48-hour period before polling concludes in an area.
S K Mehndiratta, who was legal adviser for the EC for more than 50 years until 2018, told The Indian Express that the channel “actually comes under electronic media”, and “nahi chalna chahiye (it should not telecast)”. He said, “I can only say that within 48 hours, you should not use this electronic media…that’s the law”.
Quoting Section 126 of RP Act, Mehndiratta said, “electronic media should not be used, particularly in relation to elections which are to be held within 48 hours.”
No one has publicly taken ownership of the channel yet, even as the BJP’s official Twitter handle and personal handles of Prime Minister Modi and Union minister Piyush Goyal, among others, have tweeted about the channel, asking people to watch Modi’s election-related programmes on it.
In 2014, the Telecom Regulatory Authority of India had recommended that since “platform services” are offered as exclusive services by a DTH operator to its subscribers, it should not be shared with other networks. But by being shared across major DTH platforms, the channel is available nationally.