October 10, 2009

Even small newspapers are 'pushed'

Don’t you get threats from people?
I am asked this question off and on at an interface with media students or informal meetings with residents.
Don’t people like cops and politicians trouble you?
They have not troubled us. But they have used subtle ways to express their displeasure and demonstrate their uneasiness.
But the midnight knock is not too far away.
As it was in the case of news editor Lenin this past week.
Lenin works for the Thamizh daily, Dina Malar. The daily was the target of the ire and fury of film stars after it ran a report saying that many film stars slept with people for fancy payments.
It was a report that was said to have been based on the confession of a TV artiste who was arrested for running a prostitution business in south Chennai.
A day later, the newspaper apologised for publishing this report.
The vernacular media cohabits nicely with cinema. It feeds on it ravenously. As do the artistes.
And the ‘kiss and tell’ stories, however baseless, sell.
Perhaps, Dina Malar lapped up the sleaze. And we cannot condone this attitude.
But when the state dispatches its policemen to a newsroom and picks up a senior editorial staffer who is in the middle of the day’s most important schedule, without showing a warrant, then the state is going too far.
Which is why journalists came out to protest in the city on Thursday.
You cannot treat journalists like petty criminals. And if you want to act for wrongdoing, then you need to respect the law.
Film stars, or for that matter anybody else who feel aggrieved should initiate defamation proceedings.
Often, people in power use brazen methods to challenge the media.
Local state officials certainly do not like neighbourhood newspapers taking a close look at local projects. Local politicians flex their arms when they are caught “naked” at polling booths.
A senior officer of the Chennai Corporation began shutting us out after we began publishing details of proposals councillors made for their wards. The antagonistic attitude boiled over when we followed up the major projects that invariably exposed severe shortcomings.
A powerful politician, who is also a councillor made known his displeasure when his promises to his constituents were laid bare.
Our newspapers go beyond the ribbon-cutting events. That is our duty. With it come the midnight knocks.

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