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Journalists' forum call to combat campaign against actresses

Special Correspondent

"It is their democratic right to state what they believe in"

SUPPORTING FREEDOM OF SPEECH: Charuhasan, senior advocate and actor; T.N. Gopalan, senior journalist; N. Ram, Editor in Chief, The Hindu and Sudha Ramalingam, vice-president, PUCL, at a protest meeting in Chennai on Wednesday. — Pho to: Shaju John

CHENNAI: Journalists for Freedom of Expression, a forum of journalists, on Wednesday appealed to civil society to come out "effectively against the slanderous and vicious campaign" unleashed against actresses Kushboo and Suhasini in the name of Tamil culture.

Condemning the recent "unseemly demonstrations and organised intolerance" against the artists for their statements on social attitudes to sex, the forum, through a resolution adopted at a meeting held at the Asian College of Journalism, said: "Without going into the merits of Ms. Kushboo's statement or Ms. Suhasini's defence of an isolated Kushboo, we insist it is their constitutional and democratic right to state what they believe in."

The forum said: "We commit ourselves to the crucial task of defending freedom of expression, whatever the circumstances or obstacles."

It called upon all journalists' bodies to remain united and fight for the cause of freedom of expression. The forum urged sections of the media not to trivialise or sensationalise the issue.

"No democratic society can tolerate the disquieting tendency to shut out free speech," N. Ram, Editor-in-Chief, The Hindu , said. Those who had shown intolerance should be told that "their intolerance will not be tolerated."

Describing the violent agitations against the artists as "Shiv Sena-like activity," Mr. Ram wondered whether Tamil Nadu was going to be a place for such activity to grow.

Maalan, journalist and writer, said E.V. Ramasamy, B.R. Ambedkar, Subramania Bharati and Jayaprakash Narayan were known for expressing "alternative opinions" on social and political issues. He asked where was the need for adopting violent means of protest to counter an opposite viewpoint when the State had a healthy tradition of democratic debate.

Sudha Ramalingam, national vice-president, People's Union of Civil Liberties, called for an intensive campaign to uphold freedom of expression and said the message should be disseminated widely through the Tamil language so that it reached the masses.

Advocate S. Charuhasan said the campaign against Ms. Kushboo was a response to the way in which director Thankar Bachan was treated for his reported remarks against women working in film industry. "They were waiting to take revenge on Kushboo, and they used this opportunity."

T.N. Gopalan, journalist, called for a sustained campaign to counter attempts at stifling freedom of expression.

R. Rangaraj, president, Madras Reporters' Guild, wanted the journalists' organisations to work together on such issues.

Earlier, a group of journalists, saying they were "office-bearers" of various associations and unions of journalists, protested against the holding of the meeting at the Press Club. They insisted that the names of their organisations, such as the Madras Union of Journalists or the Press Club, had been included without getting a "written authorisation" from their executive committees.

They did not allow the meeting to be conducted on the Press Club premises. Hence it was shifted to the nearby Asian College of Journalism. However, many members of these organisations participated in the meeting, which was well attended.

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