Monday, August 20, 2007

Another channel under political ownership makes its appearance

The first day of the Malayalam calendar, which fell on Aug.17 this year, saw the birth of a new television channel, Jai Hind. It is the first channel under the auspices of the Congress party.

India has had a long tradition of social reformers and political leaders launching newspapers to propagate their viewpoint. The Communist Party of India went one step further and established its own newspapers. Today at least five political parties in Kerala have their own newspapers.

Seven years ago the State CPI (M) carried the process one step forward. It set up the Kairali channel. Today the television company promoted by the party runs three channels - an entertainment channel, a news channel and a youth channel.

With the launching of Jai Hind, the Congress became the second political party to make a foray into electronic media business.

Indiavision, a news channel, was founded by Dr MK Muneer, a leader of the Muslim League, but it is not a party organ. While Jai Hind was being inaugurated, Asianet, the first private channel in Malayalam, was celebrating its 15th anniversary. It was promoted by Dr Reji Menon, a Moscow-based physician turned businessman.

On his return to India, he assumed personal control of the channel. However, he later sold the controlling interest to Rajiv Chandrasekhar, a Bangalore-based businessman and Rajya Sabha member.

The CPI (M) and the Congress, which lead the two fronts that alternate in power in the State, took the decision to start their own channels when they were heading the State administration. Businessmen with interests in the Gulf States are among the major shareholders of the channel companies set up by the two parties.

The CPI (M) picked Super Star Mammootty as chairman of its company. It also accommodated several others who are not party members in its board of directors.

Jai Hind's inaugural ceremony, held in New Delhi and beamed live to Kerala, testified to its close links with the Congress. It was Congress President Sonia Gandhi who inaugurated the channel.

A galaxy of national and State leaders of the party adorned the dais. CPI (M) leader and State Education and Culture Minister MA Baby came to offer felicitations.

Although no senior leader of the CPI (M) is on the board of directors of its channel company, a member of its Central Committee has responsibility for its affairs. He exercises control through board members who are amenable to the party's influence or through senior editorial and managerial personnel, who are party members and, therefore, bound to carry out its directives.

The Congress party's control over its channel is more direct. Pradesh Congress President Ramesh Chennithala is the chairman of the company that owns Jai Hind. Another senior party leader, MM Hassan, is also on the board of directors.

Since its birth Kairali has been endeavouring to project the image of a commercial channel. Content-wise it is no different from the rest. It claims the interviews it did with Sri Sri Ravi Shankar and Mata Amritanandamayi are indicative of its non-party character.

However, at critical moments, its political interests become evident. A long interview it did with Pharis Abubaker, a real estate businessman, recently is a case in point. It was essentially a political undertaking calculated to further the sectarian interests of the Pinarayi Vijayan faction.

Abubaker used the interview to run down Chief Minister VS Achuthanandan. When the Achuthanandan faction protested, the party's State Committee strongly defended the interview. However, following the central leadership's intervention, the committee later said the interview was a mistake.

With the arrival of Jai Hind, television viewers in Kerala have a choice of a score of Malayalam channels. Most of them are general channels, which offer a mix of entertainment and information.

However, there are also four news channels and an equal number of youth channels. There are also two Christian religious channels.

The impact of the media is a favourite topic of debate today. The media itself is doing introspection. Earlier this month the Kerala Union of Working Journalists organised a roundtable discussion on Media, Politics and Society.

The special annual number of Madhyamam, published a few days ago, features the views of eight media persons on the fallout of the Channel Revolution. Manorama News aired during the weekend an animated discussion in which leading media practitioners participated. In the absence of hard facts, the debates often turn into clash of opinions. -- Gulf Today, Sharjah, August 20, 2007

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