Free fall: on TN govt's attack on press freedom

The Tamil Nadu government’s attitude towards news media has hit a new low

Updated - December 01, 2021 06:02 am IST

Published - June 23, 2018 12:02 am IST

Any which way one looks at the Puthiya Thalaimurai case , one conclusion is inescapable: it is a direct attack on press freedom. That the Tamil Nadu government could have slapped a case against the Tamil news channel under Section 153A of the Indian Penal Code (pertaining to promoting enmity between groups), and other sections of the law, would be laughable if it wasn’t so unspeakably appalling. The cause for the action was certain remarks made by a couple of the TV channel’s guests who had participated in a roundtable discussion on current affairs before an invited audience. Although it was a right-wing section of the audience that was disruptive, first information reports (FIRs) were filed against the two guests — who, from all accounts, said nothing that was inflammatory — as well as the reporter and management of Puthiya Thalaimurai. All the more shocking is the fact that this was done even before the roundtable discussion on the role of protests was aired. Any debate in Tamil Nadu on whether protests such as the protracted and heated anti-Sterlite agitation are politicised is bound to evoke radically divergent views. But it is extraordinary that people have been booked for either hosting such a debate or merely expressing their views in it.


If proof was needed that the Tamil Nadu government was acting in a vindictive way, it was provided by another, and even more insidious, attempt to intimidate Puthiya Thalaimurai. On the State government-owned distribution network, the Arasu Cable TV Corporation, the news channel was suddenly pushed from the 124th to the 499th slot, removed in some places from the Tamil cluster of channels and regrouped with those in other languages. As for those subscribers who are linked to Arasu via analogue, the channel has become simply unavailable in many areas. Around 60% of the 1.5 crore homes that have cable television are serviced by Arasu, which was set up to link homes to television through multi-system operators and local cable operators at an affordable cost. As Arasu has grown in influence, private players no longer enjoy the patronage that they did earlier. Lately, there have been apprehensions that the State government is using its domination of the distribution space to bring news coverage by TV channels in line. There have been allegations that access to a couple of other news channels were disrupted as well; some have found themselves pushed back in the slots allotted by the Arasu network. This is why many in the media have been led to believe that the rationale or purpose for coming down on Puthiya Thalaimurai with such a heavy hand is to send a larger message to the rest of the media. The only way the Tamil Nadu government can prove they are wrong is by withdrawing the FIRs registered in this case.

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