Vijay Anand P S is a Media and Cultural Studies researcher at Queensland University of Technology, Australia. He's currently pursuing a PhD in informal media economies in India's film industry. In his spare time, he follows the news media in Tamil Nadu mostly from the point of view of journalistic ethics and journalistic codes of practice. We'll let you know when he discovers a connection.
Dinamalar’s Indignant Rage
The media landscape in Tamil Nadu is quite different from the rest of India. For starters, the two most popular television channels are owned by the two major parties of the state – Dravida Munnettra Kazhagam (DMK) and the All India Anna Dravida Munnetra Kazhagam (AIADMK). One might think it’s dangerous, but over the years people have grown accustomed to the resulting polarisation and even gotten used to making up their own minds. Unless, of course, they are hardcore blood brothers of one of these party cohorts.
In the last decade, numerous parties have entered the political arena in the state by first starting their own TV channels. This has added greatly to the media diversity in the state. It is now almost a pre-requisite that you have to have a TV station if you are considering entry into the political sphere of the state. From the Congress to Vijayakanth’s Desiya Murpokku Dravida Kazhagam (DMDK), there are a host of channels – both news and entertainment – which are directly or indirectly connected to political parties.
The print media has remained, for most part, untapped. Except a few newspapers like Dinakaran, which have very obvious connections with the DMK, one wouldn’t expect much bias in the print media as much as one would on television. But the coverage of events surrounding the nuclear power plant at Kudankulam – the protests against it, the People’s Movement Against Nuclear Energy (PMANE) and its founder, Dr Udhayakumar – raise some serious concerns of bias in regard to one newspaper in particular, Dinamalar.
Dinamalar (which also runs the world’s No 1 Tamil daily news website dinamalar.com) has been covering the events concerned with gusto and indignant rage. See for instance the screenshot from Dinamalar’s website on September 13, 2012. The title of the breaking story featured near the image of the Supreme Court reads: “Permission to load Uranium in Kudankulam; Supreme Court delivers the super verdict!” That’s not all. Four of the remaining 7 feature stories are on Kudankulam and are titled thus:
- Protests by entering the sea; Plan to enable the next wave of violence!
- Udhayakumar on the run and in hiding; Will be arrested soon, say SP and Collector
- Lathi charge and fire in Kudankulam; Udhayakumar refuses to surrender
‘We are being portrayed as terrorists’ – Udhayakumar expresses disappointment in Idithankarai.
If you thought that was interesting, the stories themselves did not disappoint.
For instance, the first feature story titled “Protests by entering the sea; Plan to enable the next wave of violence!” has sub headings like “Crossed the legal norms” pointed out the hypocrisy of the Udhayakumar-led protestors in how they started a fast and on the sly ate piping hot food. There was another sub-heading which read ”Copied water protests” which cleverly pointed to the fact that the protestors lacked the creativity to come up with original ideas and instead copied the concept of Jal Satyagraha from the protestors at Madhya Pradesh.
Dinamalar was now in the uncharted territory of reporting the plagiarism of protestors.
In most of the stories about Kudankulam, Dinamalar was desperately trying to represent the various stakeholders objectively. It pointed out that the police politely asked the protestors to move on, before they were forced to act by the unruly mob; the government tried to listen, but the protestors were adamant; the people want this resolved as soon as possible and want electricity in their homes.
I agree the police were polite and the government had the best intentions in mind. But who are these “people” Dinamalar is constantly referring to. And did you read the last part where they wanted electricity in their homes? So by “resolved as soon as possible”, I guess they meant: the “people” want the power plant to start and thereby fix the power crisis in the state.
I am not sure if the “people” Dinamalar referred to in their stories, are residents of Kudankulam, or for that matter the rest of Tamil Nadu. But I am sure that there are sections of people in the state who hold those views but not all. And if I can refer to them with an objective term, the pro-nuclear-power “people” have every right to be heard as much as the anti-nuclear-power “people”.
What is troubling, though, is to see Dinamalar take sides in this debate and sacrifice the journalistic codes of practice for interests up above, political or otherwise.
In the interests of full disclosure, I am an anti-nuclear-power “person” who believes that PMANE and the residents of Kudankulam have every right to protest given the risks involved for their futures. I sincerely hope such biased reporting from Dinamalar doesn’t feed selfish, out of sight – out of mind perspectives, on not just nuclear power but various other issues as well.