Monday, July 14, 2014

Abridging the Freedom of Speech – The Pseudo Liberal Justification

Some degree of abuse is inseparable from the proper use of everything, and in no instance is this more true than in that of the press. It ... is better to leave a few of its noxious branches to their luxuriant growth than, by pruning them away, to injure the vigour of those yielding the proper fruits. - James Madison, who framed the US Constitution’s protection of freedom of expression

Padmaja Shaw, who teaches at the Department of Journalism and Communication, Osmania University, has been consistent in her highly biased, misleading and slanderous writings on Andhra vs Telangana issues for a long time now. But this one (When media threatens democracy, The Hoot) takes the cake. An academician who is expected to defend press freedom actually justifies banning two news channels because of their ‘no-holds-barred political battle against the Telangana movement since December 2009’!

Ms Shaw’s temerity in making completely false, inaccurate and specious arguments to justify her stand in favour of a ban is astonishing. To say that Telugu television channels have ignored or played down or insulted the Telangana agitation is laughable to any viewer in Telangana or Andhra, since the last five years had seen nothing but an unrelenting pitch around the division issue and mostly in favour of it. Forget the academician; even a casual viewer of channels would vouch for the fact that the pro-division voices dominated the entire discourse for years now, for a host of reasons. And the channels scurried for cover even at the slightest hint of slur – which was often a tactic used by separatist champions to cow down the media in the state – of being biased against division.

The fact that most of the news channels are owned by individuals/companies originally hailing from Andhra but established themselves in Hyderabad is precisely the reason why their programs and news shows had a definite slant in favour of highly prejudicial and one-sided arguments that generally translated into Andhra-bashing. Most of these channels have their business interests in and around Hyderabad, and hence have always been apprehensive of being targeted. Eager to appease the aggressive Telangana voices, the media outlets even crawled where they were expected to bend. In any case, they had everything to gain by being pro-Telagnana – both for their survival and sustenance.

The more vociferous the paper or the channel is in deriding ‘Andhra’, the more credit it gets for being on the right side of the dominant intellectual discourse ruling the roost of the day. It was a tribute to the spin doctors of separate Telangana that they could effectively construct a paradigm where being pro-division was tantamount to being ‘progressive, left, democratic, for the poor, against the corporate, against the capitalists’, while those not in agreement carry the shame of being ‘politically incorrect’ and embody all the negatives of the above adjectives. Such a construct had a profound impact on the Telugu media, turning it into a guilt-ridden creature that would go to any lengths to strike the ‘right’ chord.

Besides, even a cursory look at the media in the last five years will show how pro-Telangana debate favoured the Hyderabad-centric view. The logistics never helped Andhra and its people, as they are located hundreds of kilometers away from the capital city under the firm grip of forces of division, ably helped by the likes of Ms Shaw.

So, the allegation that ‘Andhra media’ was out to take on ‘Telangana people’ fits a convenient template that Ms Shaw is adept at constructing for the hoots of this world, but is far from the truth.


The writer makes another startling and spurious statement that the reason the local media was against Telangana was because it was pro-Telugu Desam Party. Ms Padmaja may have her politics to support one party or target another. But it defies the logic as to how she has come to this strange conclusion. The major news papers in Telugu are Eenadu, Sakshi, Andhra Jyothi, Namaste Telangana, Andhra Bhoomi and Vaartha. Out of these, Eenadu is known to favour TDP, but it is also common knowledge that the media group chose to throw their weight behind TRS and KCR, allegedly to protect their business interests. So much so, the paper has been accused by some Andhra readers of blanking out news of the new Andhra Pradesh in its Hyderabad edition. The Eenadu Group has also a reputation for rushing to announce closure of its flagship Ramoji Film City even before the ink on the announcement of a bandh call given by the TRS dried.

It is common knowledge that Sakshi spews venom on a daily basis against TDP in general and Chandrababu Naidu in particular. Andhra Jyothy again is seen as a supporter of TDP only as against YSR CP’s Jagan Mohan Reddy. The paper has always been in the forefront of Telangana voices and editorially declared that it was in favour of creation of a Telangana state. Andhra Bhoomi and Vaartha have been sworn enemies of TDP. Namasthe Telangana cannot exist for a day without hitting the TDP and Naidu below the belt, equating it – just like Padmaja Shaw – with Andhra. So, you don’t have one paper that has taken a principled stand against division or Telangana.

Now, let’s look at news channels. Again, for ETV, ABN and Sakshi, their stand has already been explained with regard to Telangana and TDP. Of the remaining, TV9 always flows with the trend, though it is seen as anti-Jagan. The channel actually helped the former CM YSR in launching a frontal attack against the Eenadu Group through the Margadarsi controversy. On division issue, the channel, like the others, was influenced by the considerations mentioned above; hence the panel debates invariably gave more voice to Telangana than Andhra. In any case, the division conundrum was treated for years by many channels as fodder for making sticky television, and it was too late by the time they realized it was a hot potato which they can neither drop nor hold. TV9 was no exception to this phenomenon.

TV5 and NTV, the next in the line, are perceived as pro-YSR CP. HMTV is pro-Telangana but is sanitized in its offerings, while T News has its genes etched in anti-TDP DNA. The official channel of TRS shares an umbilical cord with Sakshi TV in titillating anti-TDP viewers. V6 has a rival in T News in its anti-TDP policy. iNews had been pro-Kiran Kumar Reddy for a long time now. And I am sure that Padmaja Shaw does not intend to say that 10tv of CPM or TV99 of CPI are plugging for TDP!

So the entire argument of Telugu media being pro-Andhra, anti-Telangana and pro-TDP falls flat in the light of the facts. (And strangely, the TDP has been in the opposition for the last 10 years beaten down electorally several times and written off by a large section of the media till recent elections. While TRS and pro-Telangana forces have been on the ascent for several years now, the TDP had been on the downhill slide all these years. Which media outlet would be willing to support a party that is neither in power nor showed promise of coming back?)


Ms Shaw has taken a lot of trouble to quote in detail how TV9’s ridicule of Telangana Ministers’ swearing-in has hurt the sentiments of the people of Telangana. This, according to her, has upset the MSOs who, she tells us with all innocence, banned the telecast of TV9. I will come to the hypocrisy of this stance in a short while..

Ms Shaw does not conveniently mention what was the immediate provocation for banning ABN, along with TV9. She, however, has come up with a strange tidbit. The telecast of an old interview with KCR on the occasion of his swearing-in was an affront, according to her. (However, neither the TRS nor the MSOs have given out a specific reason, except saying ABN was anti-Telangana, the one-word frequently invoked by TRS to dub anybody a mad dog before killing it.) Her objection is not to the content or that it was doctored, but to ABN MD Radhakrishna’s addressing KCR in familiar terms (the Telugu word translates into Hindi as tu), which apparently did not go well with TRS chief’s followers. But it is baffling that Ms Shaw thinks it fit that the channel should be banned because Radhakrishna did not address KCR respectfully. The interview was taken much before KCR became CM and seems to have offended Ms Shaw more than KCR!

Coming to TV9’s rather cheap parody which justifiably offended the sensibilities of any viewer, the channel indeed made a transgression. CM KCR took objection to the program in the Assembly and subsequently the Speaker of Telangana Assembly was authorized to take appropriate action against the channel, which meanwhile offered unconditional apology for the indiscretion.

It is nobody’s case that the media in general and electronic media in particular are paragons of virtue. On the contrary, most of the channels have been indulging in unprofessional conduct through tendentious, misleading, biased and malicious telecasts. And most of them have an agenda of their own. I have serious problems with the journalism practiced by Telugu channels including TV9 and ABN. And Namasthe Telangana. And T News!


But Padmaja Shaw’s indignation against TV9 and ABN (and the support for the ban) is indeed very selective and conveniently slotted to give credence to her venomous opposition to all things remotely Andhra. If allegedly offending a group of people repeatedly deserves a ban on the channels or papers concerned, then what should be done to the ‘no-holds-barred political battle’ waged relentlessly against Andhra people for days and months and years? Ms Shaw does not seem to recognize that Namasthe Telangana and T News and even V6 have consistently and with single-minded focus - probably unheard of in mainstream Indian journalism- carried out a vicious campaign against the people of Andhra, with the sole objective of creating an irreversible division of minds between Andhra and Telangana people. I don’t think Shiv Sena’s mouthpiece Samna could rival these media outlets in racial abuse and divisive rhetoric. To refresh Ms Shaw’s memory, I would reproduce here a few news items (?) that Namasthe Telangana carried in the very recent past, out of its daily dose of poison reserved for the Andhra people.
  • In a front page news story on N Convention’s alleged encroachment of government land, the paper says: “It is known that Telangana government has declared war against all illegal structures that Seemandhra fellows have constructed everywhere after usurping our Telangana lands as if the city were their fiefdom – and pulled them down”.
  • On the controversy surrounding release of drinking water to Andhra Pradesh by Telangana government, see the racial twist in the very first sentence of the report: “Even after Telangana took birth after throwing away the shackles, the Andhra fellows have not stopped indulging in wily machinations (against Telangana)”. In the entire report, the word ‘Andhra’ is used liberally in conjunction with expressions like ‘plotting’, ‘conspiring’, ‘masterminding’, ‘manipulating’, ‘telling cock and bull stories’ etc.
  • In another news report on land allocations to IT companies, “Wicked Seemandhra people” is freely used with least consideration to its racial connotations. Writing about the tussle over power sharing between Telangana and AP governments, this is how the news report begins: “Seemandhra rulers who have pillaged Telangana resources till recently with control on government are indulging in the same tactics even now.”
  • Writing an editorial on passage of Polvaram bill in Lok Sabha, the paper, now allegedly owned by KCR’s benami, says that the BJP government at the Centre is wagging its tail on the instructions of ‘Seemandhra lobby’. The pejorative expression is used all through and the reader wouldn’t know whether the paper is referring to its bête noire AP CM Chandrababu Naidu or to the hapless people of Seemandhra, because the paper itself doesn’t make any distinction.
I can go on and on but the point is that there is a deliberate attempt at creating a wedge between Andhra and Telangana by indulging in the most reprehensible racial jibes at the slightest opportunity. The subterfuge is to relentlessly equate the bad guys with Andhra, and thus provide legitimacy to racial profiling – not in an underground rag but in a newspaper that has been held up as mirror to the aspirations of the Telangana people.

I don’t remember Ms Shaw finding such racist, fascist writings day after day ‘a threat to democracy’ in all her writings. No, not at all. The malicious, slanderous and spiteful writings against a whole people of a region over such a long period of time should be looked and understood only as outbursts of an oppressed people giving vent to their long suppressed feelings - that is how she will probably justify the poisonous outpourings.


Padmaja Shaw’s trick is to apply one standard to her favourite media and slam a different one at the so-called ‘Andhra’ media. Imagine anyone demanding a ban on Namasthe Telangana or T News! You would have heard Ms Shaw shouting from rooftops as to how ‘the Andhra capitalist, corporate, colonial rulers were stifling the voices of the oppressed Telangana society, and are a danger to the democratic traditions of the nation’ blah blah blah..

And that’s not all! Neither she, nor her comrades have found it a threat to democracy when TRS chief KCR reportedly snatched Namasthe Telangana paper from its owner C L Rajam, the moment the TRS boss settled in the CM’s camp office at Begumpet. A curt message was reportedly delivered to the chairman of the paper, Rajam, to surrender the paper to the ruling party lock, stock and barrel, and leave quietly. Though Mr Rajam made futile efforts at browbeating KCR by hurriedly joining BJP, he could not muster enough courage to scuttle the takeover. I am sure Ms Shaw would have been indignant, nay, furious, at this ‘devious and undemocratic action of those in power,’ and would have waxed eloquent on how such an uncalled for move spells doom to the freedom of the press. But what have you heard from her? Deafening silence.

And lastly, even if one were to accept for argument sake that TV9 and ABN were ‘anti-Telangana’, how could the media pontiffs like Padmaja Shaw, who make their bread, butter and byline by lecturing and writing about ‘press freedom at any cost’, support a ban on channels? And nowhere does she talk about the fact that MSOs have neither the inclination nor the spunk (and no right whatsoever) to impose a ban on channels and that it was obviously ‘inspired’ by the ruling establishment. We have heard of ‘crony capitalism’ but championing ‘crony press freedom’ is a new phenomenon!

Alarmingly, Telangana movement has witnessed a surfeit of pseudo intellectuals who pose as being anti-establishment, though actually they are toeing the line of the powers-that-be. Padmaja Shaw is one such academic who will never tire of playing protagonist to the victimhood of her own creation, even while shamelessly being on the side of aggressor.

Media a threat to Democracy? No, the likes of Padmaja Shaw are a grave danger to the freedom of the press and democracy. 

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