By T S Sudhir
It has been nearly four days that two Telugu news channels – TV9 and ABN – are off air in Telangana. Reason : They annoyed the powers-that-be with their programming last week and the cable operators, miffed at the manner in which Telangana elected representatives were spoken about, took them off air.
All through the Telangana agitation, the TRS had huge issues with the anti-Telangana and anti-TRS line that many in the media fraternity adopted. Their ire was directed particularly at vernacular media – both print and electronic – that were owned by people from coastal Andhra Pradesh. In fact, when the state was bifurcated and subsequently a TRS government was elected, one of the biggest concerns was the lack of a powerful pro-Telangana media – both print and electronic. I will come to that in just a bit.
In this case, the satirical programme that was aired on TV9, by the admission of many of its own senior staffers, crossed the line. The language used for the MLAs of the new Telangana assembly was derogatory, highly objectionable and in bad taste. It spoke of how the MLAs who were of the standard of seeing touring talkies had been elevated to the level of watching a movie in a multiplex. It insinuated that some of the legislators fumbled while taking oath because they were in high spirits. The tone and tenor of the programme was that this political establishment was incapable of ruling a state.
Telangana chief minister K Chandrasekhar was livid. And perhaps understandably so. And like most of his ilk, converted the barbs into an attack on Telangana as a whole. MLAs in the Assembly spoke of moving a privilege motion against the channel inspite of TV9 apologising for the programme’s content. But before any of that could happen, operators took the decision to pull the plug off the two channels. It is anyone’s guess about whether it was a suo moto decision or on the prodding of the powers-that-be. ABN also bore the brunt reportedly because of content critical of the TRS.
What does this mean for the uneasy relationship that exists between much of the Telugu media and the Telangana establishment? Two steps back because the response of the TRS has taken the confrontation to one between institutions. One would have expected the elected representatives to respond more maturely to situations. The Congress and the TDP has now spoken against the decision to blank out the channels.
Yes, the self-righteous media started this slander campaign but it could have been blunted better by making them apologise, say 20 times in a day for a month. That would have hurt their credibility much more than pulling the plug. This makes the common man on the street think the government through the operators is employing strong-arm tactics.
The perception that has gained ground is that TRS is sending a very clear message. Mess with me at your own risk. And that the next time, any channel or publication will be more than careful about what it puts out.
A section of the TRS also believes that in the absence of a strong media that talks in its favour, a perception will be built that the residuary Andhra Pradesh state is doing better under Chandrababu Naidu, as compared to Telangana under KCR. The gameplan of such a media exercise would be to pump up TDP’s chances in Telangana when polls take place in 2019. The TRS is trying to blunt that by ensuring it starts its own newspaper at the earliest.