Naidu govt‘s ban on Sakshi TV

As the AP and Telangana governments try to muzzle the media, the latter, playing its own games, has either bent or crawled.

Sakshi TV’s coverage of Mudragada Padmanabham’s fast cooked its goose. 


Media freedom, inherent in the fundamental right of freedom of expression, has been experiencing repeated assaults in the two Telugu states after the 2014 bifurcation. In the latest instance, Sakshi, a 24 hour satellite news channel, is facing a cable ban across Andhra Pradesh at the behest of the ruling dispensation, the Telugu Desam Party (TDP) headed by Chandrababu Naidu. The government, which has been facing difficult times, is sore with the channel for giving airtime to the ongoing agitation of the Kapu community.

The leader of the numerically dominant Kapus, Mudragada Padmanabham, a former minister, started an indefinite fast last week, triggering a tense situation in costal Andhra Pradesh. His demand was for the government to withdraw cases against those who were arrested over the incidents of arson and violence in the coastal town of Tuni on 31 January.

Padmanabham is demanding backward class status for the Kapus. As part of this campaign, during the 31 January rally at Tuni, violence broke out and agitators set fire to a train. Though there were no casualties, the train was completely gutted, along with some motor vehicles and several persons were injured, including some media personnel. Chief Minister Naidu accused the main opposition, the YSR Congress Party leader Jagan Reddy, of being behind the unrest.

Soon afterwards, Padmanabham launched his indefinite fast. Naidu bought about a temporary truce by appointing a commission to determine the validity of his demand. But trouble broke out again when arrests were made over the Tuni incident.  A few hours after Padmanabham had started his fast at his native village of Kirlampudi in East Godavari District, he and his relatives were removed by the police and taken to a hospital. A video recording of the police beating his son while moving him out of the house went viral, arousing anger among Kapus. Padmanabham, housed in a government hospital, is refusing to cooperate with the doctors and has continued his fast.

Sakshi TV channel, owned by Jagan Reddy, lapped up these developments whereas other media houses reacted very cautiously. The Naidu government has not been happy with the coverage and, a few days ago, Sakshi suddenly went off the air.

This is not the first time that the Naidu government has behaved in this way with critical media outlets. A cable ban was imposed against NTV, another news channel some time ago. In response the management capitulated and reportedly promised to remove the editor  Kommineni Srinivasa Rao who has been openly critical of Naidu and favourable towards Reddy during his morning show 'Live with KSR'.  Having been shown the door by the NTV management, Rao recently joined Sakshi.

Same story in Telangana

Similarly heavy handed attempts to muzzle critical coverage in the media have taken place in neighbouring Telangana where Chief Minister K. Chandrasekhar Rao imposed a cable ban on  TV9 and ABN Andhra Jyothi immediately after taking charge of the new state. The result has been that media houses in Telangana are now frightened. None of them is willing to criticize the establishment.

What’s more, they are falling over themselves to shower encomiums on K. Chandrasekhar Rao. Servility has broken out.  Earlier this month, the largest circulated Telugu daily, Eenadu,  published an unprecedented four page interview with the chief minister. Other dailies obediently followed suit.

Rao, whose Telangana Rashtra Samithi (TRS) won only win 63 out of the 119 Assembly seats in the 2014 election, started encouraging defections from the opposition parties. So far 25 MLAs have joined the ruling party, including seven from the Congress and 12 from the TDP. None of them has so far been disqualified. The media has watched these developments as a mute spectator.

The reason for this pathetic state of affairs in Telangana is fear. In Andhra Pradesh, the political culture is not very different. For example, Naidu raised a hue and cry over his MLAs being lured by the ruling TRS in Telangana but has started doing the same thing himself. So far, 19 MLAs from the YSR Congress have decamped to the TDP.

The media in both states have confined themselves to reporting these developments. Criticism of defections and bribery and how they go against democratic values has been conspicuously absent. As L. K. Advani famously said about the press during the Emergency, when they were asked to bend, they crawled.

Coming back to the ban on Sakshi, journalists with the Andhra Pradesh Union of Working Journalists (APUWJ) have protested against the cable ban. But no one has reported their protests. The Andhra Jyoti management, which had banked on the support of journalist unions when its own channel faced a similar situation in Telangana, is now mum in Andhra Pradesh because it is close to Naidu.

Role of journalists’ unions 

Sadly this saga has another angle also, that of journalist unions. Not all of them are against the suppression of media freedom. They tend to be selective in how they champion the cause. This situation is the making of the ruling parties. In the undivided Andhra Pradesh, just before bifurcation, Rao raised Telangana sentiment with the birth of a union,  the Telangana Union of Working Journalists (TUWJ), which was pitted against the 55 year old union, the Andhra Pradesh Union of Working Journalists (APUWJ). When Rao blocked TV9 and ABN Andhra Jyoti in Telangana,  an offshoot of the APUWJ in the new state of Telangana fought against the ban but the TUWJ remained quiet, not surprisingly.

It’s the same in Andhra Pradesh. After bifurcation, Naidu started encouraging the Andhra Pradesh Journalists Forum, a body that emerged just before the creation of Telangana with the sole aim of opposing it. Now it has become a union and enjoys the active support of the Naidu Government. And, surprise surprise, the Forum has been quiet over the cable ban against Sakshi.


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