New Delhi, Oct. 29: The Election Commission has given the go-ahead to Doordarshan’s 24-hour news channel to be launched on November 3 despite the Opposition’s apprehensions about its neutrality and objectivity.
The Opposition fears that with Assembly polls round the corner, the BJP would tamper with news on the channel to suit its purpose.
The commission, however, said the news telecast during this “sensitive” period would be “neutral, objective and fair”.
In a letter to the information and broadcasting ministry and Doordarshan’s parent body Prasar Bharati, the poll panel said it has given its nod on the basis of an assurance from the chief executive officer of Prasar Bharati. “The commission is also satisfied by Prasar Bharati’s assurance that no political person will inaugurate the channel in order not to violate the model code of conduct,” the letter states.
But the tenor of the letter suggests the commission would step in if DD News violated the code of conduct. “The commission is concerned about the possibility of the channel being misused,” the letter says.
The Congress, in a letter to the commission, had alleged that Doordarshan’s decision to start a news channel was political and designed to influence voters’ behaviour. The party’s apprehension was echoed by an association of producers of Doordarshan’s Metro channel, which DD News is set to replace.
The commission’s letter reserves comment on the need for or timing of the news channel’s launch.
Prasar Bharati chief executive officer K.S. Sarma and additional director-general (news) Swagat Ghosh met Election Commission officials yesterday. They are understood to have told the commission that their board resolution on starting the 24-hour channel was adopted in May, months before elections were announced. The Union cabinet, too, had given financial sanction for the investment three days before the polls were announced.
The Prasar Bharati officials also pointed out that Doordarshan had taken up the project as a business venture and that the Union cabinet had said the channel would provide “unbiased coverage”.
The government today announced that DD News was being designated a “must carry” channel by cable operators.
Union information and broadcasting ministry sources said the “must carry” order has been notified in the gazette. They said this was in accordance with the Cable Networks Regulation Act, 2000. The act and the order make it mandatory for all cable operators to deliver DD News and DD National to subscribers. A third DD channel, in the regional language, was also mandatory. The order gives DD News a potential reach far beyond its competitors. However, competing broadcasters are loath to cry foul on this.
“The national broadcaster has it own privilege. We cannot challenge it. I would say the national broadcaster has an extra responsibility because the taxpayer is funding it,” Jawahar Goel of Zee Television said.
“We are aware of the rules under the Cable Act,” said Yash Khanna, spokesman for Star News. “It is the rule of the land”.