The Congress government in Andhra Pradesh has given permission to the CBI to attach the assets belonging to Jagati Publications, and Indira Television which are the publishers of Sakshi daily and broadcaster of Sakshi TV, as well as of and Janani Infrastructure. The government ordered freezing of all property transaction of these three companies.
This is the first time that the government has so blatantly been determined to launch an attack on media house. The Brahmananda Reddy government way back in 1971 banned advertisements to Andhra Jyothy daily when it was edited by the veteran journalist late Narla Venkateswara Rao, popularly known as VR Narla. But he had failed to cow the publication into submission. The editor fought the then government's attacks valiantly. He was also the first editor in Telugu journalism to quit in protest against the publication supporting notorious Emergency between 1975 and 1977.
Journalists In Andhra Pradesh always rise unitedly against oppressors whenever there is a threat to freedom of press. But journalists in one newspaper, as is their wont, have never associated themselves with these protests. In the past the media houses, too, used to be supportive of each other. Now the situation is different.
Almost two decades ago the Deccan Chronicle came out with a sensational headline “Crowds at NTR public meeting shows who is coming to power.” It was at the fag end of 1993 when the Telugu Desam Patriarch N T Rama Rao addressed a mammoth public meeting in Hyderabad.
There was so much hue and cry over the coverage of the news of public meeting from the Congress quarters because the management was then associated very much with the Congress party. But the then editor P N V Nair said “you cannot hide the news.” Then after NTR, as he was popularly known from the day of his filmdom, stormed back to power after losing in the 1988 elections to Assembly, he was unseated by a coup and his position was usurped by his own son-in-law N Chandrababu Naidu, who jumped onto the Telugu Desam Party from the Congress party soon after the party triumphed for the first time in 1983.
The then only major Telugu newspaper Eenadu supported Naidu to the hilt and helped him capture power. Deccan Chronicle again came out with another sensational story that Eenadu’s support to Naidu was a quid pro quo in the sense that Ramoji of Eenadu had supported him to save his newspaper office building for which a seventh floor was added illegally. The Eenadu strongly denied the story. Then the editor carried one more story with the photograph of Eenadu building with a headline “We thought Ramoji knew how to count from 1 to 7.”
I have to recall these stories in the wake of onslaught launched by the State government on the Sakshi daily and Sakshi TV which belong to the Kadapa MP and YSR Congress Party president Y S Jagan Mohan Reddy. It is true that Sakshi has launched a frontal attack on the Congress Government in the State as we in Deccan Chronicle did when NTR was the chief minister during 1983-1988. The DC even carried a poll survey in the run up to the 1988 general elections to Assembly, predicting that “the Congress will sweep the polls.” It turned out to be true.
Despite the newspaper exposing that NTR intended to marry a divorcee with her photograph (obtained from a village in Guntur by shelling out a big amount of money), NTR had never publicly attacked the newspaper, nor had he ever contemplated stopping advertisement to it. The governments in the past since 1972 had never dared to attack any newspaper directly or indirectly because the journalists were united and the newspapers used to be unsparing in their criticism against the government if any dictatorial trends showed up.
Of course there were occasions when local officials in the districts and also in the Hyderabad city, the Capital of the State, sought to throttle the freedom of press. Journalists rose up against the oppressors but then also representation from one Telugu Daily in the protests during those days was either conspicuous by their absence or inconspicuous by their presence. When an Eenadu photographer was pulped by the police in 1978, journalists from other newspaper protested vehemently until then government, led by M Channa Reddy, relented and paid compensation to the photographer.
But today, the situation is entirely different. Eenadu and Andhra Jyothy have blocked out the protests by journalists against the State government stopping advertisements to Sakshi daily and Sakshi TV. But these two newspapers cannot be expected to support the protests.
What is surprising is The Hindu’s stance in the entire episode. When the State government had launched investigation into Margadarshi Chit Funds, a sister concern of Eenadu, the then editor of The Hindu N Ram had not only condemned it editorially but also tried to rally support from all over the country, despite the fact the inquiry into the chit fund company had in no way impeded the freedom of press. The investigation into the chit fund company was ordered because it had collected Rs 2,700 crore from public, allegedly illegally. The Reserve Bank of India is still investigating into it.
The Hindu had again failed to highlight the issue of Reliance Industries funding Eenadu to repay the funds the chit fund company had collected illegally. The investigation into the collection of funds from the public is still going on and there is no action.
Even the Deccan Chronicle now is more or less following in the footsteps of The Hindu. It carried the reports a week ago of the government's plans to cut out advertisements to the Sakshi and the Sakshi TV on the front page as if they were the news scoops of the year. What an irony! The newspaper, which fought valiantly against human rights violations in the State all along in the past, is now giving an impression of supporting the government in its vindictive action against the fellow newspaper.
But in the case of the Sakshi organisation, the governments, both at the Centre and State, are moving goalposts to suppress it by hook or crook. If that happens, the practice of monopolizing of news by one organisation will return. The best talented journalists employed by Sakshi will be rendered unemployed, if the governments are bent upon taking revenge against Jagan Mohan Reddy for floating a new outfit against the Congress party.