Jagan gets pricey, blames it on yellow brigade

IN Regional Media | 20/12/2011
In Andhra Pradesh, where political battles are fought through"friendly" media, even an increase in the price of a paper can lead to a war of words.
T.S.SUDHIR says that even as the rivals are demolishing one another, there is an evident fall in journalistic standards.

This week, Jaganmohan Reddy's Sakshi newspaper in Telugu increased its price by fifty paise from Rs. 2.50 to Rs. 3. So what? you would obviously say. Newspapers across the world do, how does Sakshi's move merit attention?

It does because Jagan, in a signed front page piece, blamed the eigh- anna increase not on inflation or increase in printing costs but on the two rival Telugu newspapers, Eenadu and Andhra Jyoti, whose no-holds barred reportage against YSR had prompted the late Chief Minister to ask his son to launch Sakshi  in March 2008, followed by a TV channel. 

In his letter, Jagan blames the “conspiracy by the yellow brigade” led by his rival, Eenadu, for the problems he is facing. Yellow for those not familiar with Andhra Pradesh politics, is the colour of the Telugu Desam Party and both papers are seen as being close to former Chief Minister Chandrababu Naidu. 

“Because of the conspiracy by yellow syndicate and the political plots hatched by opponents, Sakshi is going through financial problems. Investors have been scared away by the innumerable cases filed against us. Since any paper takes at least five years before it could break even, we have been forced to increase the cost,” Jagan wrote.

But the increase in its price is no indication of how the paper is doing, Jagan stresses in his letter. On the contrary, he points out that with 14.5 lakh circulation, Sakshi is at present the ninth largest circulated daily in the country and a newspaper whose ``popularity has  grown substantially''. 

In Andhra Pradesh's strange and daggers-drawn news market, even a price increase is enough to trigger a war of words in print. Sakshi, when it launched, taunted its rivals for not selling their papers at Rs 2 a copy, the price at which Sakshi sold at that time. The taunt was met with a taunt by Andhra Jyoti's editor Radhakrishna who wrote : “`I would have supplied the paper free of cost had I been the son of a Chief Minister and possessed unaccounted money”.

When Sakshi increased its price in 2009 to Rs.2.50,,that was a trigger for Eenadu to poke fun through a cartoon, making more than a veiled reference to Jagan's alleged unaccounted for wealth.

With both Jagan and Chandrababu Naidu being investigated by the CBI, the Telugu newspaper space has only become an extended ground for them to play their political football. Eenadu and Andhra Jyoti bat for Naidu and paint Jagan as the enfant terrible of Andhra politics, an image that Sakshi seeks to demolish with its pungent anti-Naidu stories. But, while the politicians on both sides of the divide slug it out with the help of friendly, or should we called it in-house, media, it is the quality of journalism that takes a hit, with opinion passed off as news and allegations masquerading as investigative journalism.

Now the TDP has gone a step ahead. It has shot off a letter to the Chairman of the Press Council of India accusing Sakshi of running a biased campaign against Naidu and the party and using the pretext of the freedom of the press to indulge in personal vilification of its political opponents.

The increase in price is being interpreted as a sign that Jagan is feeling the heat, thanks to the CBI probe into his assets. Politically, his rivals both in the Congress and the Telugu Desam would want to cripple Sakshi, because the newspaper and the TV channel are a powerful mouthpiece at Jagan's command. The stakes are high for everyone involved but the reader is paying the price in more ways than one.

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