Ravi Belagere and the Kannada tabloid genre

BY SANJAY BHARTHUR| IN Regional Media | 11/12/2017
TV channels are holding debates and discourses on Ravi the editor and chronicling his almost rags to riches story including the murky underworld and its relation to crime.
SANJAY BHARTHUR explains the phenomenon

 

The arrest of Ravi Belagere, editor of a tabloid, Hi Bangalore for allegedly hiring a hit man to kill his former associate and journalist Sunil Heggaravalli has sparked intense debate in Kannada news channels even as it has been fleetingly reported in the national media.  It may be noted that Ravi and another journalist Anil Raj are also facing arrest (pending adjudication by the High court) in a privilege matter being pursued by the Legislative assembly.  The Week described it as the warring estates.

The arrest is also being reported as a spin off to the ongoing investigation into the murder of Gauri Lankesh in September. The daily press in Karnataka has been reporting on the arrest and investigation for the past two days. The TV channels are opening up to debates and discourses on Ravi, the editor and chronicling his almost rags to riches story including the murky underworld and its relation to crime.

Hi Bangalore represents the popularity of tabloids in Karnataka in the aftermath of the success of Lankesh Patrike. Ravi who owns and edits the weekly has also hosted TV shows on crime. While the family and his friends including lawyers who are preparing his bail application maintain that he is not involved, Sunil in his AV bytes and interviews to television channels is implying that in hindsight he suspects his role and goes on to reconstruct the events that convinces him. In a multi-part interview to Suvarna channel, Sunil traces his long association of 17 years with Ravi and describes him as a mentor and refutes charges and pleads being unaware that Ravi was using journalism to acquire wealth through unethical means. The media is flashing headlines that the hostility may be due to Ravi’s suspicion about Sunil’s closeness to his second wife and alleges it as the motive for the alleged supari charge that Ravi is facing now.

 

Sunil Heggaravalli

 

Contextualising this development, we need to examine the power and elitism that a successful media enterprise grants to the owner/editors.  The tabloidization of the Kannada press, albeit sneered upon by the intelligentsia, achieved its popular and cultural space through newsstand and vendor sales.  SV Srinivas and others note that Kannada tabloid industry is linked to linguistic identity as well.  Tabloids such as Lankesh Patrike were considered different from mainstream newspapers such as Praja Vani because they did not have the backing of big business or advertising revenue. The later tabloids such as Hi Bangalore and Agni seemed to succeed on the basis of crime stories based on their own brand of investigative journalism.  The success of Ravi’s growth in terms of his property according to him has come from journalism and his flair and success as a writer.

In a detailed feature, TV 9 attempted to trace his success to his present stature from his early days in Bellary to his migration to Bangalore and working through as a crime reporter to owning and editing a tabloid that specialised in crime stories. The story suggests that the police with regard to their present investigation are probing linkages to underworld economics if any.   Ravi perhaps was among the few who took a lead in a write up declaring his assets: “For someone who rode to Bangalore on his motorcycle with Rs 380 in his pocket, if I am anything today, it is because of Hi Bangalore! For 15 years, I have been a humble servant of you, my reader, and it is my duty to present my accounts before you, my master.”  That he owns and runs a successful educational institution is well known.

As the details in the media are pouring out with regard to Ravi’s motives and methods of acquiring fame and wealth, uncomfortable questions are likely to be raised transcending the neo journalistic practices successful tabloids such as Hi Bangalore were known for. The crisis in the Indian media sector ranges from ownership dynamics to aberrant institutional and ethical practices.  The consequential social and cultural impact or transformation or the lack of it may become part of the academic discourse.  Through nearly two-three decades of their existence, these tabloids have become a part of a reading public that would like to question, challenge authority, and consume the contents through popular linguistic practices that hindered legacy media for a long time. 

 

 Sanjay Bharthur teaches communication at the University of Hyderabad.

 

 

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