What about free speech in Telangana?

With free expression in the news the continuing blackout of two TV channels in Telangana bears remembering.
Never in the undivided Andhra Pradesh had the media become so meek, says SURESH KUMAR ALAPATI.

At a time when the whole democratic world has been condemning the violent attack against Charlie Hebdo by jihadists and voicing unstinted support to freedom of expression, it may not be out of place to remember another kind of continuing terror strike against the media, albeit a nonviolent one,  in the newly-formed state of Telangana. Here the perpetrator of terror is the State. For the two 24-hour news channels -- TV9 and ABN Andhra Jyothi -- being blocked out across Telangana, the future continues to look bleak.

After showing little respect for the two earlier orders by the Telecom Disputes Settlement and Appellate Tribunal (TDSAT) to restore the telecast of TV9, following a third order, two MSO groups -- which have legal obligation of telecasting TV9 till 31 March, 2015 -- resumed carrying the signal. But their presence is confined to 70 percent of Hyderabad and is almost negligible in the rest of the state. ABN Andhra Jyothi, which also has secured a TDSAT order but never entered into any agreements with MSOs, as is the case with almost all the news channels, continues to be blocked throughout Telangana.
 
For TV9 there was an ostensible reason. It aired a satirical programme, Bullet News, on 10 June 2014, lampooning MLAs, immediately after the newly elected Legislative Assembly convened, drawing widespread ire against it. Two days later when chief minister K. Chandrasekhar Rao lambasted TV9 on the floor of the House, the management of the news channel withdrew the offending programme and apologized unconditionally and profusely.
 
But, in the case of ABN Andhra Jyothi, which also had drawn flak from KCR, there was no specific provocation. The news channel and its print version Andhra Jyothi fully supported the demand for separate Telangana state all along. Yet, KCR dubbed it anti-Telangana, giving credence to the criticism that his ire against the group stemmed from the critical stories it ran leveling charges against the ruling family.
 
On the day the issue was raised by the chief minister in Telangana assembly, the house unanimously resolved authorizing the speaker S. Madhusudhana Chary to take appropriate action against TV9. It is now nine months since that resolution and he is yet to deliver his verdict, despite the fact that the House met for the long budget session last November. Why the Speaker chose to ignore the issue is anybody’s guess. Whatever his reason is but the end result is the continued hanging of Damocles’ sword over the head of the news channel which suits the interests of KCR who wants to keep the media perpetually terrorized.
 
No newspaper or news channel dares to run critical stories against the establishment now a days. The KCR family itself owns a news channel T News and a newspaper, Namasthe Telangana. The largest selling newspapers and prominent news channels owned by Andhra capitalists are in a mad scramble to compete with those two owned by the “family” in heaping praise on KCR’s rule. Gagging of these two channels did wonders for KCR. Never in the undivided Andhra Pradesh had media become so meek.
 
In fairness to KCR, one must admit that he never minces words. Memory of his infamous Warangal outburst, where he saluted the cable operators for blocking the two news channels and threatened that he would bury the media 10 miles deep and break the necks of journalists, has not faded. As if to refresh it, in case somebody from media gets emboldened, in a midnight action, Warangal police had taken the reporter of ABN Andhra Jyothi into preventive custody, a day before the chief minister was scheduled to go there last month.
 
In his earlier visit to Warangal, an important city in Telangana, last September,  KCR had to face protest demonstrations by journalists. His open threats of breaking necks and burying ten miles deep were the result of those irksome protests. The arrested ABN reporter was released next day only after journalists unions’ raised a hue and cry. Not surprisingly this whole episode had not been reported by other newspapers. What more is required to demonstrate the effect of the reign of terror unleashed by the KCR regime in Telangana?
 
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