Whatever it Takes!

Maalaimalar shoots first salvo in secret war against news channels. Brands CNN-IBN’s Arijit Sen as criminal MLA from Assam.

The media coverage of events in Assam has thrown up many harsh truths and unpleasant facts. But who would have thought that the never-ending war between print and TV media would be one of the truths coming to the forefront. Print media and regional newspapers especially, have been pilloried for just depending on PTI or ANI for their Assam reports, while the national TV channels have been praised for their in-depth coverage on Assam. One newspaper though, had enough and decided to get its own back against the snooty oh-we-have-reporters-in-every-corner-of-India TV channels. And how!

Arijit Sen, Northeast correspondent of CNN-IBN, was going about his work in Assam, without a clue to the cross-country Tamilian plot against the TV news channels. One which would soon have him in a starring role.

Since the morning of August 23, 2012, Sen had been reporting on the arrest of Pradeep Brahma – a powerful MLA from the Bodoland Peoples Front (BPF) which is an ally of the ruling Congress in Assam – for instigating violence in Assam. And Sen’s mug-shot had been appearing on CNN-IBN during phone-in updates on how Brahma’s supporters have been blocking rail tracks demanding his release.

Sen must have just settled down to some tenga and bhaat when he got a very interesting call from a colleague.

It seems the evening paper Maalaimalar – which describes itself as the No.1 leading Tamil newspaper providing latest breaking news in Tamil Nadu, Chennai, India – had carried a story featuring Sen’s photograph. Perhaps “inspired” by CNN-IBN’s tagline of “Whatever it Takes”, the paper had printed Arijit Sen’s photograph instead of Pradeep Brahma’s photo in a news report which also had the very complimentary headline – “The danger of a disease spreading”.

The mug-shot of Sen which the Tamil newspaper used to accompany their story, is the one which is prominently visible on Sen’s profile on the CNN-IBN website. To add insult to injury, Maalaimalar had also plastered the city with posters with highlights of the paper’s lead stories. Posters in which Arijit Sen’s photo figured prominently right at the top. The translated version of the first story on the poster accompanied by Sen’s photo reads: “1. MLA who is behind violence in Assam is arrested”.

When I spoke to Sen about this case of mistaken identity he said, “My colleague informed me and our office and a legal notice has been sent to them. I think it is a sad way of just picking up news, without fact-checking and being plain lazy. They must have picked up the news from the CNN-IBN website and while doing that picked up my photo. They have agreed to carry an apology in tomorrow’s paper.” Sen also said that all media houses should have a fact-checking team across geographies.

But is this just a simple case of fact-checking gone awry or the first move in a complicated game of subterfuge and character-assassination? One in which regional newspapers will slowly but surely get back at those pompous news channels. Either way, it’s recommended that Sen not plan a visit to Chennai anytime soon. Unless he now wants to be identified as a fugitive on the run.

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