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News or propaganda?

Is anyone watching The channel dedicated to narendra modi? turns out it has been around since 2012

The entry of a shiny new channel on our television sets has opened the proverbial Pandora’s Box. Out of this comes questions of ownership, licensing, TRAI regulations, the Model Code of Conduct, and whether the governing Bharatiya Janata Party is above all rules.

The channel in question is NaMo TV, which was recently rechristened Content TV.

As the name suggests, the channel is dedicated to the Prime Minister. It plays recorded content through the day: speeches by Modi and BJP leaders, schemes launched under Modi, and sometimes even movies like Bose: The Forgotten Hero.

Mystery owners

On October 4, 2012, the Gujarat state BJP unit had partnered with five local Gujarati channels to launch NaMo TV. According to domain registration website Whois, on the exact same day, the domain name Namotv.com was registered with GoDaddy.com, an American domain registrar and web hosting company. The registrant is Ahmedabad-based NST Private Limited. The domain expires in October 2025 and is currently up on sale.

The email address given above is that of Parag Shah (46), who runs NST Pvt Ltd, a company that deals with networking and data services business. The office is situated in a decade-old building in the plush Ambawadi area in his hometown, Ahmedabad.

Shah was posted as officer on special duty (IT) in the Gujarat chief minister’s office from January 2003 to 2008. Apart from the CMO, Shah looked after 32 different state government websites including that of the information department.

He was also involved with IT-related work in the state home department and the Anti-Terrorism Squad (ATS) of the Gujarat Police. Shah has worked as personal assistant to Gandhinagar Member of Parliament and former Deputy Prime Minister Lal Krishna Advani in 1998.

‘Registered, but never used’

When 101Reporters met Shah in his office on the third floor of an old building Sanskar-2, he said though he had registered the domain name Namotv.com way back in 2004, it had never been used. The domain name was transferred to GoDaddy in 2012, Shah told 101Reporters.

“The Namo TV that is on air has the domain name ‘Namotv.in’ and not ‘.com’. It is entirely different. I am an IT professional who was associated with the Gujarat CMO and even with Advaniji but was never a member of BJP. It is my business to get the domain names registered and sell them. I have several domain names registered in my name and there was nothing wrong in that.

“My Namotv.com is coincidentally associated with GoDaddy.com with which the Namotv.in was also connected but I don’t know who owns that. I had put my domain name for sale long back and it is still very much on sale,” he said.

The website, Namotv.in, has this to say about itself: “Hindi news website on Narendra Modi live, Narendra Modi video, Narendra Modi app, Narendra Modi news, Narendra Modi latest speech. We provide you with the latest breaking news on Indian politics.”

A search on domain registration website Whois shows the registrar of Namotv.in is Endurance Domains Technology LLP. The search also shows that the IP location is San Francisco, California, and it was created on October 1, 2017.

Most other details are retracted.

Notably, an LLP or a Limited Liability Partnership is easier to form and has lesser compliance and disclosure compared to a Private Limited Company.

The promoters of the 2012 version of NaMo TV have declined any involvement with NaMo TV. “We were earlier involved with NaMo TV. We are not running it anymore,” Sujay Mehta, one of the original promoters, was quoted in Business Standard.

The report also stated: “NaMo TV was aired by Mehta, a homeopath, through a company called New Hope Infotainment incorporated in 2012 … The company was registered at the same address where Mehta runs his homoeopathy clinic in Vastrapur locality of Ahmedabad.”

As of today, the Ministry of Information and Broadcasting’s website doesn’t reflect New Hope Infotainment’s name under companies running satellite television channels in India.

101Reporters also spoke to Mayank Jain, who was content head of NaMo TV in 2012. While in an interview today to ABP News, Modi feigned ignorance about NaMo TV, Jain said when Modi was CM, he used to insist that his ministers and senior bureaucrats do extensive interviews on various initiatives of his government for NaMo TV. Modi, he says, had also done a film on food safety.

Back in 2012, the purpose of launching NaMo TV was “the need … to project the truth—give voice to the BJP workers and highlight the immense work that the chief minister [Narendra Modi] had done for his homeland”. These were the words of BJP spokesperson Bharat Pandya who said Modi’s rivals had launched a “fallacious campaign to bring him down” and NaMo TV was the BJP’s response to it.

But the channel was promptly shut down on October 5, 2012, and remained off-air for almost a week following funding concerns raised before the Election Commission.

By the third week of October, NaMo TV was back on air with the EC concluding that NaMo TV’s expenses will have to be added to the BJP’s expenditure. Back then, the EC had put certain conditions on the channel for monitoring political advertisements and possible paid news.

As things stand now, PM Modi’s official mobile app has a link to NaMo TV. Both Modi and the BJP have tweeted urging people to watch it. But it is still not clear who owns or funds the 24-hour channel, which borrows the PM’s initials and his image for its logo and is available on various direct-to-home (DTH) and cable TV
platforms.

News or advertisement?

According to the Election Commission of India’s website, paid news as defined by the Press Council of India is the generally accepted definition by the EC. It is defined as: “Any news or analysis appearing in any media (Print & Electronic) for a price in cash or kind as consideration”.

Padma Bhushan awardee and former Chief Election Com-missioner N Gopalaswami said spotting paid news is a cat-and-mouse game. While the EC comes up with ways of spotting paid news, new ways of publishing come about.

Gopalswami also spoke about the telecast of election matters during the last 48 hours before polls. He said: “Only exception to the 48-hour silent guideline is newspapers, which can publish ads, etc. Electronic media is supposed to keep quiet for 48 hours. So, keeping quiet means keeping quiet.” If a channel broadcasts speeches, rallies, it will be in violation of the MCC, Gopalswami said.

Shahabuddin Yaqoob Quraishi, India’s 17th Chief Election Commissioner, who also served as Director General, Doordarshan National Television Network. He said: “Prima facie, even if it’s a marketing platform, it cannot be uplinking in the country without any license, it is unimaginable. Otherwise, tomorrow you can start a marketing channel and put out all sorts of content. It is a strange answer that it is a marketing platform and hence, no license is required.”

Speaking about NaMo TV being paid news, Quraishi said: “Paid news is when you pretend that it is news. If it is actually an advertisement disguised as news then that is paid news. However, in this case, it is obvious propaganda by the party, then it is not paid news but campaign expenditure which has to be accounted for and the content has to be cleared by the Election Commission.”

He added: “If channels continue to run speeches and coverage of rallies in the silent period, broadcasters will be in violation of the Model Code of Conduct. (MCC).” However, Quraishi explained that this doesn’t necessarily work out in a multi-phased election.

He said: “There is no way that you can cut out the signal to areas where MCC is in operation. So, if public speeches are made, they are telecast regardless of silence period or zone. And they make the argument that the signal cannot be controlled to stop transmission in the area where the MCC is in place. So the violation may not be in letter, but in spirit the violation is clear.”

Quraishi also spoke about associated expenditure when it comes to electioneering. He said: “If it is a party propaganda machine the content has to be cleared by the Election Commission such as an advertisement for TV, radio etc. And the expenditure has to be accounted for. Even if they say it is a free channel, a notional fee has to be added to the expenditure as there is no free air time, there is always a value attached.”

Meanwhile, according to market research firm Chrome DM, the “opportunity to see” for NaMo TV is 39 per cent, which is right below NDTV India which is at 43 per cent. Opportunity to see (OTS) reflects how many households a particular channel reaches. For example, if OTS is 80 per cent, then 8 out of 10 households can view the channel.

The question is if the EC will crack down on NaMo TV during the silent period. Considering how the channel has managed to surpass any scrutiny on various regulations it seems to be flouting, there’s very little hope. 

With inputs from Rajnish Mishra who works with 101Reporters

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