A question mark on DD News relaunch early-November

NEW DELHI: A question mark has been put on an early-November relaunch of Doordarshan's news channel, DD News.

Reason: The Election Commission (EC) may play spoilsport for the government and DD.

EC, which oversees the conduct of state and general elections in India, has sought clarifications from Prasar Bharati on whether the relaunch of DD News early-November breaches the model poll of conduct, considering that the channel's new avtaar and upkeep would be financed by the government.

According to the model code of election conduct, the government cannot take decisions that may seem to be amounting to handing out sops to the general populace

or highlighting its own achievements.

This temporary ban starts from the time election dates are announced by the EC and remains in effect till the whole poll process is over.

Five Indian states, including the Union Territory of Delhi, will go to polls between November and December.

According to government sources, Prasar Bharati, which oversees the functioning of DD and All India Radio (AIR), has today replied to the EC via the information and broadcasting (I&B) ministry. It is up to the EC to take a decision now on DD News' relaunch.

Efforts made to elicit a response from the Commission today proved futile as both the election commissioner J M Lyngdoh and his deputy were said to be out of town on official trips.

According to government sources, Prasar Bharati's stand is that the relaunch of DD News in no way breaches the model code of conduct that becomes applicable on the government as also other political parties.

In its reply, Prasar Bharati is understood to have said that the decision to relaunch DD News was taken by its board on 11 July and the file concerned had been moving between Prasar Bharati and the I&B ministry since January.

Moreover, Prasar Bharati has also indicated that if the EC thinks relaunching of a channel is a breach of model poll conduct, then nothing stops it from increasing the news bulletins and current affairs programming, in general, on DD.

However, what is causing concern in some quarters is the fact that the Indian Cabinet okayed government assistance - amounting to approximately Rs 270 million - for the remaining part of the current financial year, to DD News recently and after the election dates had been announced.

Some political observers here have contended that the fact that DD News - funded by the government - is to be relaunched just before the polls may be reason enough for the EC to see red.

Over the last few days, the EC has been very active and has directed the government to withdraw some advertisements in newspapers and on TV channels. Even the finance ministry had to discontinue a campaign, India Shining owing to EC diktat.

Can the new DD News prove to be beneficial for the present government that does have bright poll prospects in some of the states, including Delhi? This cannot be said with certainty as most of the content for the news channel is to be generated in-house.

However, few private producers, who are likely to get some work from DD News, are a mixed lot, including those with soft corners for the ruling Bharatiya Janata Party.

Meanwhile, it would be interesting to note that in the late 1990s, the EC had stopped the government from announcing a decision on DD's then proposed forays into KU-band direct-to-home television service. Reason: it amounted to a breach of model code of conduct.

Will history repeat itself? Watch this space for more on DD News.

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