Vol. XLIII No. 15 April 14, 2019

Brazen Violations of Model Code of Conduct

CPI(M) Polit Bureau member Nilotpal Basu has written to the chief election commissioner, Election Commission of India on April 4 regarding certain brazen violations of the Model Code of Conduct (MCC) by the leadership of the ruling BJP party and by the public funded broadcasters.

He wrote that with these series of continuing violations and no significant deterrent from the Election Commission of India (ECI) on evidence so far, the confidence of the people over the holding of a free and fair poll is coming under a cloud. Doubtlessly, these developments also severely constrain the level playing field for all the contesting political parties and candidates.

There is information that NaMo TV, which advertises for ‘Real time coverage of PM Modi’s exciting election campaign and a lot more fascinating content’ and has been on air for over a week now, does not even have a broadcast license. What is even more shocking, that the channel has not even applied for a license. It does not have a compulsory security clearance making the enterprise illegal under the existing broadcast laws. The implications from the national security (of which we get to hear day in and day out from the establishment) is spine chilling. Without an application for broadcast license nothing is known about the ownership of NaMo TV, the teleport or the system which is being used for uplinking/downlinking the channel. The channel also does not find mention in the list of permitted channels issued by the I&B Ministry as of March 31. However, the channel has gone on air and is available on all important DTH platforms.

There is a serious security risk with such flagrant violation of the existing law and rules for cable television networks, as well as several sections of the Representation of the People Act, 1951. We urge that the ECI take stringent measures against such an obnoxious development and fix accountability on whosoever is responsible for such a situation; particularly more so, because the broadcast has started only after the announcement of the date of elections with the MCC coming into force.

“We had also pointed out to you in the past about the biased role of the public broadcaster Doordarshan and All India Radio in disproportionately publicising the views of a candidate of the ruling party, who happens to be the prime minister of the country. The same trend continues with equal zeal, and we dare say, being emboldened by the ECI clean chit on the public broadcast of the prime minister. Yesterday, the prime minister’s speech in Kolkata was broadcast live by DD. Additionally, private channels using the same coverage were acknowledging this by prominently displaying on the screen that the feeds were from DD. Can the EC ensure level playing field by recurrence of such partisan behavior of the public broadcaster? We urge you to take immediate measurers to bring this trend to a halt and fix the responsibility of the officials who have been responsible for the flagrant violations of the MCC,” Basu wrote.

The third issue pertains to the public coverage of the enhanced rates of wages under MGNREGA in Doordarshan and All India Radio. The extraordinary Gazette notification of March 26 was allowed by the ECI in its direction to the ministry of rural development dated March 20 with very specific riders. The direction pointedly asked to ensure that ‘absolutely no publicity in this regard in electronic, print, radio, internet or any other media, in any form whatsoever’ is given. The ministry also subsequently issued an order on March 28, 2019 to this effect. However, again the information about the enhanced rates were publicised in DD/AIR bulletins. We have also come across similar information in the form of WhatsApp messages. It seems that increasingly the ECI’s directions are followed in their breach. We urge you to take strong and tangible actions against those who are responsible for such violations, he said.

Appropriate measures on these vital issues are necessary to convince the people about the constitutionally ordained role of the ECI and ensure a level playing field for a free and fair poll.