Blame-game ensues as Chennai journos squabble over ‘undemocratic’ media clubs and unions

The Chennai Press Club is facing several allegations.
Blame-game ensues as Chennai journos squabble over ‘undemocratic’ media clubs and unions
Blame-game ensues as Chennai journos squabble over ‘undemocratic’ media clubs and unions
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The ongoing infighting between several groups of journalists in Chennai representing different clubs and unions is now at the brink of implosion, with dirty linen being washed in public and both groups pointing fingers at each other of being undemocratic, and hinting at maladministration and embezzlement.

At the centre of the controversy is the Chennai Press Club, a recreational and welfare club which is being run by the same group of journalists for several years now. A ‘Chennai Press Club Retrieval Group’ has been formed, which The New Indian Express describes as a “cross-section of journalists, primarily comprising youngsters”.

There are several complaints against the Club – one, there have been no elections since 1999 and as a consequence the same journalists have been in-charge of the operations, and two, there is no transparency in the administration, memberships and financial accounting.

"For years the same group of people have been operating it, without elections. The Club makes a lot of revenue from holding press conferences, running to several lakh rupees every month, where is all the money going?" asks R Mohan, a journalist with a Tamil daily who is at the forefront of the campaign against the present management of CPC.

Mohan had filed a case in the Madras High Court against the management of the CPC in 2009. In 2012, the court ordered fresh elections to be held. But in 2013, the present management of the CPC got a stay order and since then no elections have been held.

Further, there also allegations against the CPC of misusing the Club badge to further personal interests. Mohan and his group allege that the present members of the Club use their position to get their way around cops and politicians. Interestingly, the present Secretary of the CPC has reportedly been out of the country for the past 8 years and continues to hold the post.

The Chennai Press Club stands on government land for which a paltry lease is paid every month. The building was built by the SRM Group as a favour to the Club few years back at a reported cost of around Rs. 50 lakh. There have been questions raised against the construction of the new building as well. "What was the locus standi of the unelected management to take the crucial decision of razing down the old building and constructing a new one using donations from SRM? Can they take such a big decision without consulting anybody? They should not have done such deals on their own. No one was consulted even over naming the building after SRM," says RK Radhakrishnan, a senior journalist in Chennai.

A journalist from the SRM-owned TV channel Puthiya Thalaimurai, Subbaiah, has also now impleaded himself in the case against the CPC which Mohan has filed.

Subbiah says that the case has not been dealt with properly by either side.

"My intention is to get the Club to run properly. Women are not even able to come and go. There are no proper toilets and the environment is not conducive for women," says Subbaiah, importantly adding that, "both the sides which are fighting now are not taking the case in the right direction." He says the case is getting delayed for no reason. His impleading into the case was opposed by Mohan, the petitioner against CPC.

Bharati Tamilan, the Joint Secretary of the Chennai Press Club denies all allegations and says that the entire issue is driven by personal egos and enmities.

"We have not been able to hold elections because litigation has been initiated against us whenever we wanted to hold elections. When that happens, we have to respond to the court and cannot hold elections. We have a meeting soon and we will be announcing the date of the next General Body meeting and decide on the date of elections," he says. The CPC has now adopted a resolution to hold elections soon. Tamilian says that it is as a result of that the an out-of-country member is still on record the Secretary, but he has no role in the functioning.

He also flatly denies all allegations of embezzlement. "We have accounts for everything, with the same auditor. When the General Body meeting is held, we will present it to all the members," says Tamilan.

He claims that the Press Club has been the most active organization of the city, and it’s for that reason that others are targeting the club out of envy. "We help journalists if they are hospitalised. We take care of their families if journalists die suddenly. For every issue faced by journalists, we go to police stations and political parties to fight for the journalists.  We don't advertise, but we use funds to help journalists. Other unions and associations do very little, so they are targeting us," he says.

The Madras Union of Journalist of which CPC petitioner Mohan is a member, too has not had elections from 2010. "Even the so called elections which were held in 2010 were an eyewash. If someone is raising a finger against us, they should be clean," says Tamilian. Mohan says that the MUJ is planning to hold elections in a few months now.

Several other unions like Chennai Union of Journalists, Madras Reporters Guild and Consortium of Journalists in India based in Chennai also face allegations of not having democratic functioning with certain individuals representing them for years.

There is also a section of journalists who believe that senior journalists should move beyond personal egos and work towards an environment where every organization does its job and work towards the betterment of the journalist community at large.

"Press Club is a recreational and welfare club. We need democracy there but we should know and understand its functions. Similarly, other unions and associations like Reporters Guild, MUJ should also be democratic and conduct elections. Tamil Nadu journalists are facing severe clampdown through criminal defamation cases, has any one of the organizations raised their voice or even planned for an agitation?" asks Shabbir Ahmed, a journalist with a prominent English news channel.

Update: Comments of RK Radhakrishnan were added later.

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