Blocking news channels: TDP, YSRCP and the media war

NTV, TV9 Telugu and Sakshi channels were blocked from June 6. All the channels have been restored as temporary relief owing to interim orders issued by the Delhi High Court.
Blocking news channels: TDP, YSRCP and the media war
Written by:

Two days after the results of the Andhra Pradesh Legislative Assembly elections were announced, three news channels NTV, TV9 and Sakshi went off the air. The Telugu Desam Party (TDP), which won 135 out of the 175 seats, was accused of blocking three of the most viewed Telugu channels in the state.

While the TDP denies any form of targeting, they have been mistrustful and critical of these channels for their ties – direct and indirect – to the YSRCP.

Sakshi is owned and operated by YSRCP chief YS Jagan Mohan Reddy and currently runs under the chairpersonship of Jagan’s wife YS Bharathi Reddy. NTV is owned by Rachana Television Private Limited (RTPL), which belongs to Narendra Chowdhury while Alanda Media is owned by the My Home Group’s chairman Jupally Rameshwar Rao, who also has a majority stake in TV9 Telugu. The three are criticised by TDP supporters for being in favour of the YSRCP when it comes to their news coverage.

NTV, TV9 Telugu, 10TV and Sakshi channels were blocked from June 6. While all the channels have been restored owing to interim orders issued by the Delhi High Court, the situation is yet to be fully resolved.

“While Sakshi is against TDP, channels like TV9 Telugu and NTV have at best given more coverage to the YSRCP than to any other party. They haven’t been heavily critical. It is evident that this is to position themselves better,” an official from Sakshi TV told TNM.

However, blocking channels isn’t peculiar to the TDP alone. News channels in the Telugu states are split on party lines. ABN Andhra Jyothi and Eenadu are known to favour the TDP. In fact, when Jagan Mohan Reddy came to power in 2019 – two channels TV5 and ABN Andhra Jyothi – went off the air on cable. The channels alleged that the Jagan government had pressured cable operators, while the state government argued that the channels had not paid carrier fees.

The blocking of news channels does two things: it affects the channel’s revenue and also hinders checks and balances on the party in power. In their petition before the Delhi High Court, TV9 Telugu said that the blocking of the channel, especially at a time when Andhra Pradesh Chief Minister and TDP chief Chandrababu Naidu was being sworn in on June 12, “greatly undermined the reputation of the channel in the eyes of its viewers.”

The Delhi High Court granted interim relief to TV9 Telugu on June 24, ordering that the channel's transmission shall continue uninterruptedly. In the subsequent days, NTV and Sakshi also received the same favourable order. But this is only temporary relief. The channels will have to approach the Telecom Disputes Settlement and Appellate Tribunal (TDSAT) after the tribunal’s vacation ends in June.

TV9 Telugu had argued before the Delhi High Court that no prior notice was given to them before blocking their channel. The same point was brought up by YSRCP Rajya Sabha member Niranjan Reddy, who wrote to the Telecom Regulatory Authority of India (TRAI). Niranjan Reddy argued that compliance with TRAI’s regulation 17 should be ensured. Regulation 17 says that no service provider shall disconnect the signals of television channels without giving at least three weeks’ notice, clearly specifying the reasons for the proposed disconnection.

A top official at Sakshi TV told TNM they are under immense pressure from advertisers who have already paid for their advertisements. If Sakshi remains off the air, advertisers may even withdraw their campaigns affecting the channel’s chances of sustaining themselves.

International organisations like the Committee to Protect Journalists (CPJ) and the International Federation of Journalists (IFJ) have raised concerns regarding the attack on these three channels.

In a statement, CPJ India Representative Kunal Majumder said they were disturbed by the blocking of the channels.

“It is crucial for the new Andhra Pradesh government to uphold the principles of a free and independent press to ensure that all broadcasters, regardless of how critical they may be, can operate without interference or censorship,” he added.

When Jagan was in power

The Jagan-led YSRCP was accused by the TDP of attacking Ramoji Rao-owned Eenadu, Andhra Jyothi and TV5 by threatening them with defamation cases. The tension escalated during the 2019 Budget session when the channels were prevented from telecasting from the Legislative Assembly. The Jagan government also initiated criminal proceedings after another company owned by the Eenadu group.

In August 2023, the Andhra Pradesh Crime Investigation Department (CID) registered 10 First Information Reports (FIRs) against Margadarsi Chit Fund Private Limited (MCFPL), under varied sections of the Indian Penal Code (IPC).

The charges included cheating, breach of trust, and fraud. Ramoji Rao, who died earlier this month, his daughter-in-law and the managing director of MCFPL, C Sailaja Kiron, were named in the FIRs among others. Aside from legal battles, attacking and mocking channels have figured in several political speeches. Jagan's government has often accused the Eenadu Group of biased reporting and sensationalism, claiming they had close ties with TDP chief Chandrababu Naidu.

Jagan often refers to Eenadu and Andhra Jyothi as “yellow media,” a play on the colour of TDP, implying they spread propaganda for the party. During his campaign speeches for the 2024 Assembly polls, Jagan brought up Chandrababu Naidu, Jana Sena chief Pawan Kalyan, and the media outlets and positioned them against him. “Your (Jagan) son,” he told the public, “is on one side, striving for your welfare, while all these people with the aid of their yellow media, are attempting to tarnish him.”

In January 2024, Haseena Shaik, an associate editor with TV9 Telugu was harassed by TDP’s social media wing after she interviewed YSRCP leader Kodali Nani. “There is a general feeling among TDP supporters that TV9 Telugu does not grant proper coverage to their party, because of which they are targeting me,” she told TNM on January 18, 2024.

The animosity dates back to Jagan's father, YS Rajashekhara Reddy, a two-time CM of Andhra Pradesh and prominent Congress leader, who had a contentious relationship with Eenadu and AndhraJyothy, often calling them "yellow papers."

In 2007, YSR empowered the Special Information Commissioner to sue journalists and media houses for “false, baseless, defamatory news.” In October 2019, Jagan, as CM, expanded this order, giving bureaucrats heading all departments the power to file cases against print, electronic, and social media.

Related Stories

No stories found.
The News Minute