The media houses are caught in a political crossfire in the two Telugu states of Telangana and Andhra Pradesh. A new trend is that the ruling party leaders make no bones about calling any media outlet critical of their regimes as “enemies” and go after them with a streak of ruthlessness that was not seen before.
While political leanings of the vernacular media, both the print and electronic, are an open secret, what is apparent now is the new sense of aggression on the part of the ruling parties—Telangana Rashtra Samithi (TRS) in Telangana and YSR Congress Party in AP—while dealing with media criticism.
There is a similarity in approach between the two chief ministers K Chandrasekhar Rao and YS Jagan Mohan Reddy when it comes to publicly attacking media houses and accusing them of being “hostile and incorrigibly negative”.
KCR had warned in his earlier stint that he would bury critical media “10 kilometres deep inside the Earth”. He had also imposed an unofficial ban in his first term on TV9 and ABN Andhra Jyothy channels in Telangana for airing “objectionable reports” on his government.
On his part, soon after taking oath as chief minister on May 30, Jagan had named three media organisations—Eenadu, Andhra Jyothi and TV5—for “defaming him and his party through motivated reporting” and threatened to sue them if they continued to “spread canards”.
Two recent instances reflect the growing friction between the media and the ruling parties: Ban on two prominent Telugu news channels—TV5 and ABN Andhra Jyothy— in AP for “deliberately peddling negative propaganda” against the government, and the arrest and imprisonment of the sacked CEO of TV9, Ravi Prakash, in Hyderabad following a complaint by the new owners of the media organisation who are considered close to the TRS leadership.
Another worrying trend is the muted response from the media fraternity itself. The media organisations and managements are divided along political lines while the general public appears to have become disenchanted with the shenanigans of the media promoters and their dwindling credibility.
Both ruling parties have their own media outlets, both print and electronic. While Jagan’s family owns ‘Sakshi’ daily and a news channel under the same name, the family members of KCR run ‘Namasthe Telangana’ – a Telugu newspaper, ‘T News’ channel and ‘Telangana Today’, an English daily.
The corporate bigwigs who are considered close to the TRS leadership have been expanding their footprint in the regional broadcast space.
Both KCR and Jagan have never concealed their disdain for TV9 channel in general, its founder-CEO Ravi Prakash in particular. It is in this backdrop that the company’s ownership changed hands. The new owners of TV9, which has the largest reach in terms of viewership, are close associates of KCR and his family.
The Associated Broadcasting Company Pvt Ltd (ABCPL) that runs a bouquet of news channels in various languages including TV9 Telugu, TV9 Kannada and TV9 Gujarati, was acquired by Alanda Media and Entertainments Pvt Ltd in August 2018. Alanda Media was floated by Jupally Rameshwara Rao, a real estate developer who owns the My Home Group. He is known to be close to the chief minister, on whose recommendation he was recently appointed as Tirumala Tirupati Devasthanam Trust Board member by the Andhra Pradesh government.
Rao owns 62 percent of Alanda Media, while PV Krishna Reddy, the managing director of infra giant Megha Engineering and Infrastructure Limited (Meil) holds 38 percent of the company. Megha Engineering is executing the Kaleshwaram Irrigation Project, the flagship scheme of the TRS government and its promoter Krishna Reddy is known to be close to KCR.
Case against Prakash
Clearly, Ravi Prakash, the face of the popular channel, is up against formidable entities. Prakash, who owns a 9 percent stake in the company, was sacked in May last year.
On a complaint by the new management, the police registered two cases against him on charges of forgery, cheating and criminal conspiracy and questioned him at length. At the time, Prakash called the new promoters “representatives of political honchos who are out there to devour every journalist and independent media house today”.
Prakash had alleged that Krishna Reddy was used as a front for the takeover of ABCPL, and Rameshwara Rao came into the picture through the backdoor. He also claimed that he had fiercely resisted Rao’s editorial interference.
His arrest on October 5 was based on a fresh complaint by a director of the company alleging that Prakash and his associates had drawn an amount of ₹18.31 crore without authorisation.
The questions are being raised over the alacrity with which the Telangana police acted against the journalist when the dispute over management control is being heard in the National Company Law Tribunal (NCLT).
Incidentally, KCR’s family members and close business associates now own, either fully or partially, a majority of the leading news channels in the state. As a result, one hardly comes across media coverage critical of the government.
In the neighbouring AP, a ban was imposed on TV5 and ABN Andhra Jyothy on September 13 for the alleged pro-TDP bias in their reportage.
Will BJP help?
In this backdrop, the owner-editor of ABN Andhra Jyothy V Radhakrishna’s meeting with the Union Home Minister Amit Shah in Delhi recently raised eyebrows in political circles. Radhakrishna, seen as a close associate of TDP president and former chief minister N Chandrababu Naidu, is often accused of running a shrill campaign against Jagan and his party.