Media regulation and Democracy - I
by B R Haran on 28 Nov 2009 3 Comments

Marathi Manoos and Media’s madness

Rajdeep Sardesai, Editor-in-Chief of CNN-IBN stated, “We want the government to pass an ordinance that whenever a media person is attacked, it would be considered a non-bailable offence. Only then an element of fear will come. If it can be done for doctors, it can be done for journalists too.” He said this outside the Maharashtra Chief Minister’s residence after meeting the latter following attacks on an IBN office by Shiv Sena activists.


The attacks were waiting to happen, as the media in general and IBN in particular had been going overboard regarding Bal Thackeray’s views on Sachin Tendulkar, which deserved barely ten lines in print and two comments on TV. But the electronic media bored viewers for a whole day, repeatedly showing Sachin’s comments and Bal Thackeray’s editorial, and making a mountain out of a molehill by contacting politicians for comments on Thackeray’s takes on Sachin.


The media, which is aware of the “culture” of the ‘Marathi Manoos’, should have stopped after a day of reporting the issue. Then nothing would have happened. But IBN continued with a series of programs criticizing Bal Thackeray, as confirmed by Nikhil Waghle, Editor, IBN-Lokmat, himself.



This is not the first time the media has been attacked in Maharashtra. The state has a shameful history of media houses provoking the Marathi Manoos and getting attacked by political goons in response. 


In 2004, Nikhil Waghle, owner and editor of Mahanagar, was attacked by Shiv Sena activists for making “derogatory” remarks about party leaders. The same year, Sajid Rashid, editor of Hamara Mahanagar, was stabbed in the back twice, after an alleged hate campaign against him.


In 2006, Zee TV studio in Mumbai was ransacked by Shiv Sena workers over a satirical skit about the Thackerays. The same year, the Loksatta office in Maharashtra’s Ahmednagar was attacked for refusing to publish Shivaji’s picture on the front page on the occasion of Shiv Jayanti.


In 2007, members of the Hindu Rashtra Sena attacked the office of Star News in Mumbai over a story about the elopement of a boy and girl from different communities. The same year, Shiv Sena members attacked the office of Outlook in Mumbai for calling Balasaheb Thackeray a villain.



With this kind of sordid history, instead of being careful, IBN persisted with its criticism. Even after Sachin had forgotten what he had said and Bal Thackeray had forgotten what he had written, IBN never allowed people to forget and tried to make more money out of a non-issue by sensationalizing it further, finally paying the price for it.


Besides, what happened to the previous cases? Were they taken to their logical conclusions? The answer is No. Most Editors of media houses have been pally with politicians and either owe allegiance to a particular party or are biased towards one or other. Sometimes as a political strategy, they confront a particular leader, whether ruling or opposition, and settle for a compromise at later stages. This situation prevails not only in Maharashtra, but in other states as well. 


Tamil Nadu as an example


During the AIADMK regime, on 7 November 2003, the Tamil Nadu Assembly passed a resolution sentencing the Editor of The Hindu, N Ravi and four others (Executive Editor, Malini Parthasarathy, Publisher, S. Rangarajan, Chief of Bureau, Tamil Nadu, V. Jayanth, and Special Correspondent, Radha Venkatesan) and S Selvam, Editor of the Tamil Daily and DMK organ Murasoli, to 15 days simple imprisonment for breach of privilege of the House.


The Hindu wrote an editorial titled “Rising intolerance” on 25 April 2003, criticizing the then Chief Minister Jayalalithaa’s speeches in and out of the House and the same was translated and published by Murasoli. The state police raided the office of The Hindu and finally all of them approached the Supreme Court on 10 November 2003 and got a stay of the arrest warrants issued by the Speaker of the TN Assembly. The case died a natural death and N Ram was seen pleasantly smiling and talking with Jayalalithaa in later days.



On 9 May 2007, the office of the Tamil Daily ‘Dinakaran’ was attacked by DMK goons and supporters of CM’s son Azhagiri, for carrying a survey finding scant support (only 2%) for him. Petrol bombs were thrown and the office set on fire, all in front of policemen. Three employees (two computer engineers and one security personnel) died. The newspaper is owned by CM’s grand nephews Kalanidhi Maran and Dayanidhi Maran and the incident created a feud within the DMK-family, forcing the resignation of Dayanidhi Maran from the Union cabinet of UPA-I. SUN Network snapped all connections with the DMK and the party was forced to start its own TV Channel “Kalaignar TV”. 



The 2-dozen culprits including the husband of Madurai Mayor were arrested on murder and other charges; all got bail within three months. Though the CM “volunteered” and ordered a CBI probe, no one from the Editors’ Guild bothered to find out the current status of investigation. Within 18 months, the family feud was over and Dayanidhi Maran became a minister in UPA-II, rubbing shoulders with Azhagiri. The poor families of those killed were forgotten after initial compensation of a few lakhs. 


N Ram, Editor-in-Chief, The Hindu and Frontline, called the attacks “the darkest hour for the press in Tamil Nadu in recent times,” but stopped with passing a resolution at the meeting of press people. He said the Chief Minister and police department “should ensure that the ‘extra-constitutional authority in Madurai’ (read Azhagiri) is questioned and reined in under the law of the land to ensure that freedom prevailed in Tamil Nadu.” The moment the CM announced a CBI probe, he called off the protest rally organized by the press and has since not uttered a word on the issue. It is going to be three years and not a soul from the “Editors’ Guild” has a mind to question the government or Chief Minister on the status of the “CBI probe” as only employees died and a few lakhs have been disbursed as compensation.


In the 2003 case, the Editors of The Hindu and Murasoli, through their counsels Harish Salve and Kapil Sibal respectively, argued in the Supreme Court for their fundamental rights as envisaged in Article 19 (1) (a) (freedom of speech and expression) and Article 21 (protection of life and personal liberty) and against the powers of the State Legislatures under Article 194 of the Constitution, saying it could not be construed as authorising any authority of the State to arrest and detain a person.


But what about the fundamental rights of the three dead employees of Dinakaran? Both the establishment and the state failed to protect their lives. Adding insult to injury, they are not pursuing the investigation to bring the culprits to book. The alleged mastermind of the attack has become a Union Minister and the owner of the attacked property has also become a Union Minister, leaving the families of the innocent victims suffering in silence.


A freelance reporter Sivasubramaniam, who created a sensation with his investigative stories on Sandal Wood smuggler, brigand and animal poacher Veerappan, was reporting to both Nakkiran and India Today. Suddenly he was caught in the fight between both establishments and one fine day was seriously attacked leading to hospitalization. India Today moved out of the scene and Nakkiran pursued the Veerappan story and since then there has been no news about the poor Sivasubramaniam.


Such cases are not uncommon. In most cases, only employees bear the brunt of such attacks, not Editors or Publishers. Second-rung politicians attacking reporters and correspondents are a common occurrence in our country and hundreds of such cases are there in each and every state. Editors and Publishers who indulge in the game of politics to run their businesses compromise with politicians and forget the interest of their employees.


In this backdrop, Rajdeep Sardesai’s demand that attacks on journalists must be made ‘non-bailable’ offences is farcical, dubious, and devious, and will die a natural ‘political’ death. His mention that Congress president Sonia Gandhi had taken a serious note of the incident is itself a proof of his playing politics.


Most mainstream media houses, including IBN, have been biased towards certain parties in the name of “secularism” and have been hostile to Hindu / Nationalist parties like the BJP / Shiv Sena. Criticism must be fair. Media cannot be selective. No doubt, ‘freedom of expression’ has been enshrined in the Constitution, but the constitution has never given a free hand to abuse it or cross limits. Once freedom is abused, consequences have to be faced. But the issue here is the employees who face the consequences and suffer in the process, due to politics played by media houses and political parties. If media houses act within limits, attacks can be avoided and employees will also be safe.


On the one hand the media goes overboard against a particular party, religion or culture, crossing the limits of freedom of expression and on the other hand, demands special laws for protection, a ‘touch me not’ syndrome. If the attack on media is to be made non-bailable, the attack by media must also be made non-bailable. Logically, the existing laws are enough for both sides, critic and criticized. If at all there is a need for a special law, it is only for the regulation of the media which is long due in our country.


(To be continued…)

The author is a senior journalist; he lives in Chennai  

User Comments Post a Comment
Comments are free. However, comments that include profanity or personal attacks or other inappropriate material will be removed from the site. Readers may report abuse at
Post a Comment

Back to Top