In an incredulous turn of events on Saturday, the Tamil Nadu police has booked a TV channel for statements made by its guests during a debate organised in Coimbatore. The Peelamedu police has booked two participants Director Ameer and Kangeyam MLA U. Thaniyarasu as well as organiser Puthiya Thalaimurai TV and the channel's reporter for promoting enmity on religious grounds.
The debate titled, 'Are continuous protests for people's basic needs? Or for political reasons?' was being filmed at a private college. BJP Tamil Nadu President Tamilisai Soundararajan, DMK's TKS Elangovan, Tamil Manila Congress leader Gnanadesikan and CPI's state secretary Balakrishnan were also participating in the programme. According to the police, Ameer was responding to the BJP state President when he made remarks about the communal tension that prevailed in Coimbatore following the murder of Hindu Munnani functionary C. Sasikumar in 2016.
"The minute he said that, the BJP and RSS members in the audience began shouting and creating a ruckus," says TKS Elangovan. "Ameer didn't say anything wrong. He said if burning buses in Thoothukudi was anti-social, then what about the incident in Coimbatore. But they just made a huge scene. Tamilisai asked them to keep quiet but they didn't listen even to her," he adds.
By this point, MLA Thaniyarasu came to Ameer's defence and he has been accused of abetting the Director.
The police has booked Ameer under Sections 153 (A) (Promoting enmity between different groups on ground of religion), and 505 of IPC (Intent to incite one community against another) , for making remarks that could lead to tension between sections of people.
What is flabbergasting however, is the police's decision to book a case against the channel merely for opinions expressed by participants. Puthiya Thalaimurai and its reporter, who made arrangements for the debate, have been booked under Sections 153(A) (Promoting enmity between different groups on ground of religion ), 505 of IPC (Intent to incite one community against another) and 3(1) of Tamil Nadu Property Prevention of Damage and Loss Act for organising the programme.
According to reports, police received a complaint from the Manager of the college auditorium alleging that they were not informed that a political debate was planned in the hall. But sources in the channel have refuted it, claiming that they have been openly promoting it as a debate.
Why book the channel?
Opposition parties including the DMK and MDMK have condemned the action of the police and allege that it sets a dangerous precedent in terms of the freedom of press. The Chennai press club has condmened the case against Puthiya Thalaimurai.
"This is an attempt to intimidate the media in Tamil Nadu. We condemn this action and demand that the cases be withdrawn immediately. Moreover, Tamil Nadu Chief Minister Edappadi Palaniswmi who holds the Home Ministry portfolio must assure us that press freedom will be maintained," said the press club in its statement.
MLA Thaniyarasu who won his Assembly seat representing the AIADMK told TNM, "Later that day, eight people threw stones at my car and a case has been slapped against them as well. But I don't understand why we have been booked for simply expressing our thoughts in a debate. This is definitely because of the BJP's influence on the ruling government. We will take this up in the Assembly on Monday. This is a huge blow to our democracy."
CPI(M) leader K. Balakrishnan has stated that the BJP should stay away from such debates if it could not tolerate divergent views.
TKS Elangovan meanwhile pointed out that the channel did not even play out the allegedly offensive portions when the debate was telecasted.
"This is very wrong and a threat to press freedom," he told TNM.