The Sun feels the heat

BY MAYA RANGANATHAN| IN Regional Media | 15/05/2007
It is perhaps difficult to document exactly how Sun TV swung the DMK`s electoral fortunes, but it is easy to recall how it attempted to.

Maya Ranganathan

It is as well that Dayanidhi Maran is treading the path of appeasement declaring loud and clear that ?he was born in the DMK and will die in the DMK (sic)? even as he wonders which of his recent actions were ¿anti-party¿.

It could not have been lost on his leader and his party to whom he swore unswerving loyalty (in precisely that order) while explaining his resignation to press persons, that an enraged Maran can be a formidable foe indeed, for the Marans¿ have the most powerful weapon in the DMK¿s armoury -- the Sun network.

The Sun network has come a long way from the days it rode piggyback on Karunanidhi¿s vengeful son M K Azhagiri¿s Sumangali cable network to gain a foothold in Tamil Nadu. Sun TV as part of the Rs 600 crore-Sun Network, which made its debut in National Stock Exchange and Bombay Stock Exchange in mid-2006, today runs 14 TV Channels, four FM radio stations, two daily newspapers and four magazines. Dinakaran acquired in 2005 that sparked off last week¿s Madurai violence by publishing a survey that ranked M K Stalin ahead of M K Azhagiri in the succession race, is the latest in its kitty.

Even if political memories are short, the media¿s contribution to the DMK¿s successes over the years in electoral politics is too well-documented to forget. In the initial years, if theatre, cinema and Murasoli, which incidentally Maran the senior edited, helped propagate the DMK ideals, in the more recent years it has been Sun TV that has worked as DMK¿s most powerful propaganda organ.

It is perhaps difficult to document exactly how Sun TV swung the  DMK¿s electoral fortunes, but it is easy to recall how it attempted to. Starting with consistent campaigns against the AIADMK, particularly party supremo Jayalalitha¿s extravagant lifestyle, the  telecast of the midnight arrest of Karunanidhi, the apportioning of time to DMK sympathisers and political interviews,  Sun TV has led to the catapulting of ¿television¿ into the political discourse in the state. So much so that ahead of the 2006 Assembly elections in the state, even some seemingly die-hard DMK sympathisers like MDMK secretary Vaiko and actor Saratkumar switched allegiances owing to (non)coverage in Sun TV. According to some, it was Marans¿ equation with the DMK chief that resulted in the promise of free colour television sets as sops to the poor. Critics had it that the grant of colour TV sets was made purely with the aim of enriching the Marans¿ coffers.

And today the Marans have every reason to be enraged. They have lost lives and property and have the backing of the press in the state that cries hoarse of assault on freedom of expression. A besieged Dayanidhi seeks to distance himself from the Sun network and its publications, much as his brother Kalanidhi, the managing director of Sun network, once tried to play down the DMK connection. In the initial days of Sun, he was fond of saying that incidentally his office occupied a floor in Anna Arivalayam, the DMK headquarters in Chennai.

One can only wait and watch what turn events will take. If Dayanidhi is to be taken seriously this is but a temporary rift. And prudence too demands that it be so. For the DMK that set a trend in exploiting the propagandistic potential of media to lose its media arm would be too tragic indeed. 

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