India's poll watchdog says Modi TV channel flouts election rules

NaMo TV has been showing prime minister's rallies and speeches with approval from election commission

Indian Prime Minister Narendra Modi gestures while speaking at an election rally during the first  phase of the Indian general elections in Bhagalpur, in the Indian state of Bihar on April 11, 2019. India's gargantuan election, the biggest in history, kicked off on April 11 with Prime Minister Narendra Modi seeking a second term from the South Asian behemoth's 900 million voters. / AFP / Sachin KUMAR
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Indian election officials have ordered a clampdown on a television channel devoted to Prime Minister Narendra Modi which they say breaches campaign rules.

As the country of 1.3 billion people embarks on its huge vote, the Election Commission said NaMo TV, which is sponsored by Mr Modi's right-wing party, had to submit all of its content for approval.

Under Indian election rules, any content deemed campaign material – including advertisements, films and even social media – needs permission from the election body.

The order made late on Thursday was the commission's second blow to the Modi re-election campaign in 48 hours, after it postponed the release of a flattering movie about the 68-year-old prime minister until after voting finishes.

NaMo TV, offered free on several television platforms, shows 24-hour programmes on Modi rallies, speeches, and even rap songs and dance routines devoted to the normally austere leader. It was being broadcast as normal on Friday.

The Election Commission of India, an autonomous body which oversees the six-week voting marathon that began on Thursday, said NaMo TV had flouted election rules which aim to provide a level playing field for political parties.

It said that the channel was "sponsored" by Mr Modi's Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) and "all political advertisements and recorded programmes with political contents are mandatorily required to be pre-certified" before they can be shown.

On Wednesday, the commission said the Modi biopic PM Narendra Modi, which tells of the Hindu nationalist leader's ascent from selling tea at a train station to prime minister, could not be released during the election.

The producers had insisted they have no links to the BJP.