Why is Tamil media so biased?

IN Regional Media | 14/05/2006
Party slogans and propaganda material have replaced what is conventionally called "news".




S R Ramanujan



If the recently held assembly elections in four states and one Union Territory proved one thing related to media, it was this. The pollsters in the country have come of age after a series of goof-ups in the past that earned them the sobriquet of "political astrologers". This time round, most of the exit polls were on the dot, especially the Hindu-CNN-IBN one done by Yogendra Yadav’s team. Yadav’s exit poll gave a range of 157-167 for the DMK alliance and 64-74 for the AIADMK front. The figures that emerged after the EVMs were opened on 11th morning were 163 for the DMK+ and 69 for the AIADMK+. Even the "Times Now" poll and the "Star News" poll gave a similar projection. This is in stark contrast to what was predicted for the 2001 assembly polls in Tamil Nadu when all the pollsters ended up with egg on their faces. So far so good.


But this cannot wash the sins of the Tamil dailies during the campaign period. Party slogans and propaganda material replaced what is  conventionally called "news". Distortions and disinformation were the order of the day. "Dinamalar" considered to be a sober daily and "Daily Tanthi" with its sensational headlines, both with a combined circulation of 1.2 million copies, converted themselves into the official gazette of "Amma".  In fact, Jayalalithaa never had such a good press, having alienated the entire media all through her political career. Strangely, it is not out of great love for "Amma"s policies or achievements that these two dailies turned out to be her party’s propaganda sheets. Even "Dinamani" from the Indian Express stable, known for its professional standards, tilted towards "Amma". In a way, all the Tamil dailies and a few magazines ganged up against the DMK.


What prompted them to take such a line? Thereby hangs a tale!


It was a very clever strategy of SUN network boss and Karunanidhi’s grand-nephew, Kalanidhi Maran to come out with a morninger and an eveninger well ahead of the elections. A great believer in buy-outs, Maran bought the title "Dinakaran" from DMK party leader, KP Kandaswamy, and renamed it "Pudiya Dinakaran" (New Dinakaran). Both "Pudiya Dinakaran" and "Tamil Murasu" (eveninger) were launched early this year in anticipation of the elections. There was massive publicity for Dinakaran on the SUN network and every programme was sponsored by the new daily. For every sensational news item in the dailies, there would be a ticker on the Sun TV screen. 


But Maran’s real trump card was its price of one rupee whereas other dailies price ranged from Rs 3 to Rs 4/. He also saw to it that the new paper’s 16 colour pages were designed in such a way that they looked attractive and mod-ish in sharp contrast to the competitors. Within a few weeks the multi-edition daily started selling a million copies because of the price and fresh look. Tamilians have the habit of going out in the morning to fetch milk sachets for their "Kapi". They didn’t mind spending just a rupee for 16 pages, whatever be its editorial content. This helped Maran to create a sort of revolution in the newspaper industry, catching other dailies off-guard.


However, Maran’s business rivals claim what they lost were their trained staff for a fat pay packet in the SUN stable and not their circulation.


The Tamil air is full of arithmetic these days. Therefore, the attention is on the economics of "Dinakaran". The production cost of the daily is estimated to be around Rs 7. With a sale price of Rs one, Maran will be subsidizing every copy by at least Rs 6, thus incurring a loss of Rs 60 lakhs a day. Even with all the financial muscle of the network, he cannot continue this for ever. Either he has to increase the sale price like the Deccan Chronicle did in Tamil Nadu or go in for combined ad tariff for both television and print to offset the losses at least on paper. Well, now that his purpose has been achieved with his grand father’s party in power, he does not have to be as aggressive as he has been in pushing the paper.


But the bitterness Maran has created in the Tamil media world will remain. He ran a campaign in his network against "Daily Thanthi" for getting government advertisements out of turn. "Dina Malar" also developed a grouse against the SUN for it did not get a licence for its television channel thanks to Dayanidhi Maran.  It was Kalanidhi Maran’s one-upmanship and high-handedness, because of political and financial clout, that united his competitors to take on his print venture and to extend blind support to Jaylalithaa. It is a different story that it did not help Jayalalithaa a wee bit. But, how blind it was could be gleaned from the following instances. 


We have heard of solus ad in newspapers. But the Tamil dailies have extended it to news as well. When Congress chief Sonia Gandhi visited Chennai on April 26 for election campaign, "Dina Malar" carried just one news item on page one with a colour(ed) headline "SONIA TENSION" with a deck "flew away after 5 minutes of poll speech". Why was she tensed? The news item explained it for the benefit of readers. Sonia was informed of the Central Intelligence report about the possibility of AIADMK emerging as the single largest party and that created "tension" for her. For the same event, "Dinakaran"s  headline was "Sonia’s Shabath (commitment) : 2 Kg rice and colour TV promises will be implemented".


"Dinamalar" had another solus. That was about a possible "ban" on Karunanidhi’s contest! The same daily carried an 8-col banner on April 23 about the rift between Dayanidhi Maran and MK Stalin as to who should be the next chief minister. The source was an election speech of actor Sarath Kumar, TV producer and actor Radhika’s husband.


Most of the Tamil dailies have an edition in almost every district. Whenever Jaya visited a particular district, "Daily Tanthi" would carry a full page ad (a paid ad or a courtesy ad, one does not know) of Amma’s itinerary in the district with E V Ramaswamy Naicker, Annadurai and MGR’s profiles in the background, plus a number of small ads on page one issued by the party leaders. The curtain raiser for "Amma"s visit will invariably be the solus news on page one because the rest of the space would have been taken away by "welcome ads" issued by the activists.

Now that the elections are over will the Tamil dailies restore a semblance of objectivity? Let’s wait and watch!


Tailpiece: Most of the Tamil dailies (except "Dinamani") do not think it necessary to allocate space for editorials. Is it because all their news stories are nothing but editorials?



Contact:  s_ramanujan9@yahoo.co.in




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