Telangana: KCR launches proxy war on the media freedom

Hyderabad: In its first show of administrative muscle, the Telangana Rashtra Samithi government has launched a proxy war of sorts against television channels not favourable to it and cracked down on two television channels.

It is now over three days since TV9 and ABN Andhra Jyothy channels have been blocked by Multiple System Operators (MSOs) who control the distribution of TV channels through cables. Chief Minister K Chandrasekhar Rao himself moved a resolution to this effect in the Telangana assembly and the Telangana Legislative Council, empowering the Speaker and the chairman of the respective Houses to take a call on the punishment to be awarded to TV9 and ABN.

 Telangana: KCR launches proxy war on the media freedom

Telangana Chief Minister K Chandrasekhar Rao. AFP

Is it an act of unbridled superciliousness on the part of KCR and his Telangana Rashtra Samithi to gag the media? His critics do affirm that. In fact, the Telugu Desam Party tried to prevent the extreme step by voicing its concern on the floor of the House. However, majority opinion prevailed.

Interestingly, the gag order has not come from any constitutional authority or the government. The MSOs chose to block the relay of the two channels and Telangana MSOs association president Subhash Reddy asserted that they would not resume the channels until the representatives of the channels came forth for a dialogue.

What was the trigger? TV9, in one of its comedy-cum-commentary shows Bullet News, aired a programme in which the script had comments that purportedly hurt the sentiments of people Telangana. The chief minister and the members of the Houses took exception to the snide remarks passed on the legislators and their backwardness. They adopted a resolution condemning the entire programme.
Meanwhile, the Telangana government had also included Andhra Jyothy in its resolution, referring to the derisive and objectionable comments in the newspaper against the Telangana state government, the Telangana Rashtra Samithi and also the MLAs of the region.

Interestingly, TV9 put out a statement tendering an unconditional apology for the content that had hurt the sentiments of the people Telangana and suspended the ‘Bullet News’ programme. Soon enough, several journalist organisations, institutions and political parties have begun urging the MSOs to end the blocking of the channel.

After tendering an apology, TV9 is maintaining a strategic silence, except for occasionally airing the views of one leader or the representative of an organisation, urging the MSOs to reconsider their decision.

Andhra Jyothy managing director V Radhakrishna is more vocal on the issue. While ABN Andhra Jyothy decried the gag order on the TV channel, the managing director of the channel, which also runs its flagship, Andhra Jyothy Telugu daily newspaper, openly “accepted the challenge” and sought to know why ABN channel had to be blocked, when it had not aired any programme replete with derogatory remarks against Telangana.

On the other hand, he claimed in his signed editorial published on the front page of the newspaper on Tuesday that Andhra Jyothy was the first media organisation to have supported the cause of Telangana. He questioned the “dictatorial approach” of KCR and how healthy it would be in a democracy for the governments to gag the media.

There is a running feud between KCR and these two media organisations. Though the media organisations have never acknowledged it, KCR has never spared an occasion to launch a tirade against them. In fact, more often than not, KCR targeted Andhra Jyothy and its managing director in many press conferences.

Though the intrinsic meaning of blockage of the two channels by MSOs and the from where the “invisible instructions” have come are clearly understood by one all, no media organisation is declaring solidarity with the two channels openly. However, journalists unions are rallying behind them against the government order.

Telangana PCC chief Ponnala Lakshmaiah, Leader of the Opposition in Telangana Assembly K Jana Reddy and several others urged the MSOs not to toe the line of the government and block the TV channels.

Lakshmaiah the people had a choice of Direct-To-Home and also YouTube to watch the channels live without depending on the cables. This would eventually prove detrimental to the cable TV business, he felt.

While Indian Journalists Union and several other journalist organisations condemned the blocking of airing of the channels, IJU President Devulapalli Amar said that the MSOs were not the regulators of the content of TV channels. The IJU felt that the MSOs overstepped their brief and acted like a regulator. The available laws of the land could have been invoked to deal with the situation, but blockage of channels was highhanded and obtuse, felt CPI leader K Narayana.
Of course, the TV channels also have bitter critics outside the TRS too. They described it as a class war and questioned the intent behind airing programmes or publishing columns spurning Telangana culture, and projecting the Telangana MLAs in a low esteem.

As of now, it is a huge business loss for the TV channels, especially the TV9, for it is the channel with the largest viewership.

While Hyderabad market alone contributes to 41 percent of distribution among the cable networks for TV9, one million markets (cities with more than 10 lakh population) like Vijayawada and Visakhapatnam contribute 15 per cent of viewership. The up-to-one-million towns account for the rest of the viewership.

However, the television audience measurement (TAM) agency has not implemented the bifurcation in its calculations. How the Telangana government will take this proxy war with TV channels to a logical end remains to be seen.

Updated Date: Jun 19, 2014 20:10:14 IST