Over the past week, sleaze has played out on Telugu news channels in Andhra Pradesh.
First, a “sex video” did the rounds, purportedly featuring Gorantla Madhav, the Hindupur MP from the governing Yuvajana Sramika Rythu Congress Party. It was a recording of a video call with the bare-chested MP. The opposition Telugu Desam Party said Madhav had “sexually harassed” the woman on the other end of the call.
Next, Madhav held a press conference where he said he’d filed a police complaint and that the TDP had “morphed” the video. The news first broke on AndhraJyothy news channel, he explained, which is “known to be pro-TDP”. He also offered up videos of his workouts, saying these were used to create the “fake video”.
On August 10, the Anantapur superintendent of police said they were investigating the video. Meanwhile, the YSRCP suspended Madhav.
Unsurprisingly, this sequence of events made for excellent fodder for primetime shows and discussions.
TV9 Telugu set the bar low with a featuring anchor and TV9 managing director Rajnikanth Vellalacheruvu. “Who is this handsome hunk?” he said while the item number Manmadha Raja played in the background. Pink hearts popped on screen and the ticker said “Nudist” and “Dirty Picture”.
The discussion then turned to Madhav’s “mental stability” with the anchor asking senior journalist Telakapalli Ravi, “Madhav’s approach towards asking for a sex through a video call – do you think this is a sign of mental weakness?”
Ravi replied, “This is against our societal values. He’s an MP and an ex-police officer. Doesn’t matter if he is mentally weak, he needs to be punished.”
Ravi then took it up a notch: “Money, sex, clubs and pubs are not for lawmakers. The ruling party must be mindful of this.”
During Madhav’s press conference, he had accused TDP party leaders, who predominantly belong to the Kamma caste, of targeting him because he’s from the Kuruba caste, an OBC.
TV5 News decided this was an excellent peg for a debate. on August 10, anchor E Sambasiva Rao said, “Madhav took a bitter birth in the backward caste. He is bringing a bad name to this caste. Madhav is the only politician belonging to this caste who has a foul character. The other backward caste people are ashamed of him.”
The ticker dutifully described YSRCP as an “all fake party”.
The 45-minute programme featured panellists like YSRCP MP Raghu Rama Krishnam Raju and political analyst Kondabaddalu Subbarao. Rao went on a 20-minute tirade against the Andhra Pradesh government and then told Raju, “We are ashamed of your party. Why did you even start this party? You are corrupt liars. We as common people have made the biggest mistake by voting for your party. Poor us.”
If YSRCP wins another term, Rao warned, it would be “worse than the Hiroshima-Nagasaki disaster”.
Raju, who has a reputation for being a dissident within the YSRCP, said, “I have no evidence to prove you wrong.”
The debate ended with Rao calling the party a “Y Cheapy” party.
But this is par for the course for TV5. On , its anchor Murthy sadly said, “MP does not mean member of Parliament. It means male prostitute. That’s the biggest joke going around.”
At the centre of this political storm is ABN AndhraJyothy, accused by Madhav of leading the charge against him. The channel’s managing director has now filed a against Madhav.
But by any standard, the channel’s coverage of the “sex video” was wildly problematic.
On August 4, for instance, anchor Venkata Krishna discussed the matter on . Panellists included TDP leader Shobha Reddy; actor Pruthvi; Andhra Pradesh Parirakshana Samithi president Kolikapudi Srinivas Rao; and Amaravathi Bahujana Joint Action Committee president Bala Kotaiah.
Addressing Shobha Reddy, anchor Krishna said, “Until we die, we will have to deal with things like crime and sex. We can’t do anything about it. But when responsible representatives are involved in such crimes, what does that make you feel?”
Reddy didn’t hold back. “When I look at his nude visuals, it was funny and disgusting at the same time. It’s not like he is handsome,” she said. “It aches my heart to see such a day.”
Unchecked by the anchor, Reddy’s incredible tirade continued: “I felt like puking when I saw him. He’s not a bodybuilder nor does he have a six-pack. He has a monkey face.”
The anchor even laughed in response and said, “Even if he looked like a hero, doing something like this is disgusting.”
This wasn’t even the worst part of the debate. That came later, with Kotaiah titling the video “Gorantla’s dung” and demanding Madhav’s resignation. “Children are mortified looking at the video,” he said. “What’s next? Will he show his back now because the front is viral?”
Yet again, the anchor’s response was to laugh. He also claimed the woman who was on the video call was a “victim”, saying repeatedly, “God knows how much Madhav must have tortured this woman...Our condolences are with her.”
Venkata Krishna continued to address the unknown woman during a discussion on August 10. “Amma, I don’t know who you are,” he said. “I don’t know what you went through, how much Madhav tortured you. But the way you chose to expose this animal is commendable.” He also used a slur against the transgender community, which we’d rather not reproduce here, and why “even they wouldn’t be interested in looking at Madhav nude”.
Things continued in this vein throughout the debate. In case you were wondering, there was no representation from the YSRCP on the panel.
Then there was Sakshi TV, owned by YSRCP chief and Andhra Pradesh chief minister Jaganmohan Reddy.
While other channels tripped over each other to report on Madhav, Sakshi TV ignored the entire issue, only Madhav’s press conference.
Until August 10, when anchor Komineni Srinivas Rao , replete with photos, “exposing” TDP leaders with women. It also accused TDP chief Chandrababu Naidu of being “the producer” of the viral video.
On the panel were YSRCP leader Venkat Reddy, Congress representative A Ramakrishna Yadav, and BJP’s Samanchi Srinivas. The debate quickly devolved into Srinivas and Reddy getting into a heated argument after Reddy said Madhav had been “drunk” during his press conference. Anchor Rao tried to reign them in, saying, “It is a baseless point to accuse Madhav of being drunk based on body language.”
Yadav lamented the state of discourse, saying, “In the past one week, there has not been a single constructive debate. We are having to discuss sex tapes on TV.”
Rao agreed but then went off into another rant. “How can women watch such nude videos and admit in public?” he said. “TDP women leaders have stooped to such low levels.” He then asked the Congress representative why his party hadn’t suspended Shashi Tharoor over his wife’s suicide.
What does one have to do with the other, you ask? It’s all in a day’s work for Telugu news channels.