The Kerala Union of Working Journalists took the decision to boycott BJP’s press conferences in Thiruvananthapuram, Kottayam and Kozhikode after journalists covering the hartal were attacked.

news Media Thursday, January 03, 2019 - 19:08

“Taking it out on your mom for failing in the market” is an oft quoted saying in Malayalam and pretty much sums up what's happening in Kerala for the past two days. Two women in the previously banned age group entered the Sabarimala temple on the second day of the New Year and this didn't go down well with a lot of people, who call themselves the protectors of tradition. A hartal was declared on Thursday. But outbursts broke out even on Wednesday afternoon, soon after news of the two women climbing Sabarimala had come out. It came as unexpected attacks on random shops, people on the road and on journalists – who have covered the stories of protesters and their anxieties about women’s entry into Sabarimala as well that of those who wanted the Supreme Court order to be implemented in spirt. 

When the attacks against the fourth estate did not stop on the second day, journalists reacted. The Sabarimala Karma Samithi and the Ayyappa Karma Samithi had called a hartal in Kerala on Thursday. Journalists doing their duty went out to cover the hartal like they have every other hartal, and there have been so many in the recent past. But scores of reporters and photographers were allegedly attacked by hartal supporters, many women among them. 

Reacting to the attacks, journalists announced a boycott of press conferences called by BJP leaders in Thiruvananthapuram and Kozhikode. BJP state president PS Sreedharan Pillai in Thiruvananthapuram and state general secretary K Surendran in Kozhikode therefore saw few media persons covering their respective press conferences.

"About hundred odd journalists across Kerala, including women have been attacked in the last two days by the Sangh Parivar. When we ask the leaders about it, they say they can't control their anikal (workers), who were having an emotional outburst," says Suresh Vellimangalam of Kerala Union of Working Journalists (KUWJ), Thiruvananthapuram. 

"The BJP wants journalists to give their news and then beat us up too. There is no need for the media to tolerate that. They are questioning the pride and self-respect of journalists. And not allowing us to do our job. That's why we decided to boycott Sreedharan Pillai's and Surendran's press conferences and didn't allow BJP leader KP Sasikala to conduct one at the Kottayam Press Club," he adds.

It was not a decision made by the state committee of KUWJ but by individual district committees, of Thiruvananthapuram, Kottayam and Kozhikode, says Kiran, a journalist with News 18 and Thiruvananthapuram district committee member of KUWJ. "It was not an accidental attack during a commotion. This was deliberate attack on journalists when BJP workers went after reporters and camerapersons," Kiran says. He adds that it's a one-day protest by journalists as of now.

Not just KUWJ members, but independent journalists are also cooperating with the boycott. "What happened to another journalist today may happen to me tomorrow. So there is no point in keeping silent," says Gopi Krishna of India Today TV. "Basically, journalists need to be able to do their job. They would need to be in the thick of action both for the political parties that need coverage and for the people sitting at home to know what's going on. It is one of these political parties that have now unleashed an attack on the journalists. And the leaders are feigning ignorance, claiming 'it's not our people'."

Gopi adds that this is not a case against one political party but all. "Whoever it is, if you don't let us do our job, we won't be able to cover your news."

K Surendran, who learnt of the boycott after finding few media organisations at his press conference, posted on Facebook that he understood that the CPI(M) faction in the media scene is behind this boycott. "It's surprising to see this boycott now when it didn't happen at the time Pinarayi Vijayan asked media persons to get lost or when reporters were attacked during a welcome given to Kunhalikutty (IUML leader) at Karipur airport (in 2004)," the post said. Surendran claimed that it was not a planned attack but that journalists would have been inadvertently injured during the hartal, which was a natural reaction to the approach of the government towards Sabarimala. Not covering what they had to say was not journalistic ethics, he wrote.