Media remained a mute spectator till it was used to wash Ganesh-Yamini dirty linen
The media’s “self-restraint’’ in probing former Forest Minister K.B. Ganesh Kumar’s alleged extra-marital affair and domestic turmoil that have led to his resignation has invited criticism from media pundits and political commentators.
They point out that the private lives of public figures can be examined in certain cases, when they affect politics and public policy.
The high drama on Monday that culminated in the resignation of the Forest Minister had witnessed non-stop television coverage, with both the parties effectively utilising the media space for settling scores. Mr. Kumar, his estranged wife Yamini Thankachi and their domestic help Rijo addressed the media throughout the day. The drama continued on Tuesday with Ms. Thankachi releasing photographs with graphic details of domestic violence to the media. On the contrary, the media on its part had maintained silence till Monday. Except for an article that appeared in a Malayalam daily on March 3 saying that Mr. Kumar was manhandled by the husband of his alleged lover, the mainstream media had stayed away from probing the truth behind the allegation.
Taking a dig at Kerala’s media for its falling investigative journalism standards in an obvious reference to the Ganesh Kumar affair, noted writer N. S. Madhavan had tweeted in Malayalam on Tuesday, “Keralathil investigative journalism marichuvo?. Aramanarahasyam Angadipattu. Angadiyilo malukalilo anweshichal palathum kittum”. (Is investigative journalism dead in Kerala? Palace secret is market gossip. If you probe, you will get a lot more from markets or malls).Agreeing to Mr. Madhavan’s views, Sebastian Paul, noted media critic and political commentator, said the media had handled the whole issue in a ‘restrained mood’ though there was no demand or desire for privacy from those involved in the issue.
“The media could still carry out enlightened reporting on the unanswered questions. Readers and the viewers will be eager to know the truth behind the allegations and counter-allegations of physical abuse made by both Mr. Kumar and Yamini. Newspapers and television channels are duty bound to probe the truth,” he said. Mr. Sebastian Paul said such a media scrutiny might come under criticism but it would be justified considering the fact that both the parties were not insisting on protecting their privacy, as they had gone on record and aired their complaints through the media. “In America and Britain, media examines aspects like fidelity, morality and faithfulness of public figures since it’s a matter of public concern,” he said.
Senior journalist B. R. P. Bhaskar said it was very easy to draw a line in the media coverage of private affairs of those in public sphere. “But we should not forget the truth that one of the parties involved in this case was holding public office. And hence there was more than ordinary interest in the issue,” he said. Pointing out that there was nothing wrong in media not pursuing the private life of both Mr. Ganesh Kumar and Ms. Thankachi till they came out and presented their complaints, Mr. Bhaskar however cautioned the media about the need for exercising restraint while reporting such issues.
“The non-stop coverage of the drama has become a common media practice today. It’s like a media event. The question of how to handle such cases remains. The media’s interest should be to bring out the relevant facts before the public. It’s a fact that the presence of 24X7 television coverage is making a difference to many things happening here,” he said.
But Sashi Kumar, Chairman of Media Development Foundation and Asian College of Journalism, Chennai, said keyhole journalism was not a great idea especially in matters of privacy. He said the private life of a husband and wife does not warrant a sting or spy camera operation unless the parties involved want to go to the public with their grievances.
However, Mr. Sashi Kumar said the K.B. Ganesh Kumar-Yamini issue was legitimate public material for the media as it was about the allegations of violence and infidelity made public by the wife of a person holding public office. He also reminded that a person, who is in public life, enjoys less privacy.