The telecast of an advertisement, featuring the achievements of the AIADMK government, in Sun TV, considered a mouthpiece of the rival DMK, has left leaders and cadres of the latter disgruntled.
At a time when campaigning for the upcoming Assembly elections has gained momentum, DMK functionaries fear the advert – Vetrinadai Podum Thamizhagam – that sings peans of the government, would erode the electoral prospects of the DMK while benefitting the AIADMK.
Dr S Senthilkumar, the DMK MP from Dharmapuri, was reportedly blacklisted by Sun Group after he in a tweet spoke about the anger of the cadres.
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“Proverb: You can’t have the cake and eat it too. Sun TV U might be a big business empire. But Kalaingar’s foot soldiers and lakhs of cadres who owe their loyalty to Our leader Thalapathy don’t take these things lightly. Either make money carrying Ads or Be loyal to DMK cadres,” Senthilkumar tweeted on December 30.
When his followers commented that this was a government advertisement and a public shareholding company must telecast it, Senthilkumar replied, “There is no compulsion to carry an ad by the ruling state. They are being paid to carry these ads, and it’s your prerogative to receive money and telecast these ads. Are these ads telecasted in Kalaingar TV, TTV’s Jaya TV? So many other channels don’t telecast these ads”.
The DMK leader said that the Sun TV should telecast such advertisement after making it clear that there is no relationship between them and the DMK, and that they don’t have any expectations from the party.
He alleged that the Sun Group management has asked employees not to cover related to him, either in print or electronic media.
Once an organ of DMK
From a video magazine, Sun TV has witnessed a meteoric rise into a full-fledged entertainment channel over the years.
Channel’s founder Kalanithi Maran, after completing his education had started a Poomalai, the video magazine in the 1990s, similar to India Today’s Newstrack. It was alleged that those days, prominent video cassette shops were pressured to buy the video magazine, failing which they will be implicated of renting blue films.
The video magazine business came to an end in 1992 due to some copyright issues. Kalanithi approached Zee TV, requesting them to provide a three-hour slot to relay Tamil programmes through their transponders. But it could not materialise. He, however, started successfully relaying programmes after striking a deal with Asian Television Network (ATN).
In 1993, he founded Sun TV. In those days, the programmes were produced three weeks in advance and sent to Moscow to be telecast through Russian satellites. In 1995, Sun TV became a full-time channel.
All was well as far as the variety of programmes was concerned. On one hand it gave a tough competition to other entertainment channels such as Raj TV and Vijay TV through feature programmes and on the other hand it attracted the viewers through news, which was mostly critical of the then AIADMK government helmed by J Jayalalithaa.
While their father Murasoli Maran, being a relative to DMK patriarch M Karunanidhi and decorating top posts both in the DMK and in the Centre, the Maran brothers (Kalanithi and Dayanidhi) also developed a proximity with the party’s leadership.
When Jayalalithaa hosted the lavish wedding of her foster son Sudhakaran in 1995, the Sun TV telecast extensively telecast the event. The same footage was used against the chief minister by the DMK during the 1996 elections, making Sun TV the unofficial organ of the party.
When there were no news channels, it was Sun TV that telecast live election campaigns of DMK. In 2001, when Karunanidhi was arrested in the midnight, the channel telecast it live and for the next couple of days the scenes related to police manhandling Karunanidhi were aired repeatedly. This was also used in the 2006 elections, attracting a large number of sympathy votes for the DMK.
The love and support that Sun TV received from Karunanidhi made the Maran brothers go the extra mile. In May 2007, Sun Group’s print media Dinakaran conducted a survey which showed MK Stalin, the second son of Karunanidhi to be more influential than his elder brother MK Alagiri. The survey finding angered Alagiri’s supporters who attacked the newspaper’s office in Madurai where three of its employees were burnt to death.
The incident caused a rupture in the relationship between Karunanidhi and the Maran brothers. In September that year, Karunanidhi’s family launched their own channel Kalaignar TV.
From then on Sun TV has tried to be a neutral channel by airing news related to the AIADMK and even telecasting controversial news related to the DMK including the 2G spectrum scam, in which DMK leaders such A Raja and Kanimozhi were allegedly involved. It also telecast the funeral of Jayalalithaa for a whole day.
‘Nothing personal, it’s just business’
“I don’t know how far it is rational to say that Sun TV is ‘DMK-oriented’. It is a business house. It is not only running a channel in Tamil but also in other languages. There is nothing wrong in telecasting the (AIADMK) advertisement. It’s like a non-smoker selling cigarettes in a shop he is running,” said journalist and political observer Malan, who headed the channel for many years.
Malan refuted that the channel became neutral after the attack on Dinakaran staff, saying “it’s your (people’s) perception”.
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“The Sun TV has given equal space to all political parties. We have aired news related to Jayalalithaa and invited Vaiko even when he was not in an alliance with the DMK. Saying that the channel maintains neutrality after Dinakaran attack is factually wrong,” he added.
Talking to The Federal, one of the spokespersons of the DMK said the party cannot own or dispute the decisions of the channel.
The Sun Group did not respond to the queries of The Federal. However, a representative in its corporate office who did not wish to be named said the group is aware of the disappointment among DMK cadres over the advertisement. “The government has made telecast of the advertisement in this channel compulsory and that’s why it is carried. We have been receiving many calls regarding this. We are taking their feedback to the team concerned,” the representative said.