The media fraternity in Tamil Nadu is, once again, on the boil after a particularly raucous press conference. This time with DMDK treasurer Premalatha Vijayakant. The leader, who called for a press conference on Friday to clarify the party’s run-in with the DMK, lost her cool with the media on being asked if the party had a clear ideology. The question was necessitated by the fact that in the scramble to form an alliance ahead of the 2019 Lok Sabha polls, the DMDK had been simultaneously conducting talks with arch rivals, the AIADMK as well as the DMK.
With the DMK’s Duraimurugan having taken away some of the DMDK’s bargaining power with his sassy remarks on Wednesday, it was obvious that Premalatha’s fiery press conference was an attempt to save face for the party. While the leader made a notable point on not being rushed into making decisions by media pressure, her ire landed on media persons seated before her, referring to them in colloquial Tamil as ‘nee’ as opposed to the respectful, common and professional usage of ‘neenga’. In painful irony, while teaching Duraimurugan a lesson or two about 'Tamil culture' and treating guests with respect (in reference to two DMDK leaders who had visited his home), Premalatha singled out television news channels and their reporters for the questions they asked. It is no secret that in Tamil Nadu, almost every political party with a grain of clout-- including the DMDK-- has at least one major television/ news channel whose editorial stance is supportive of the party. Would the DMDK’s Captain TV not ask leading, provocative questions at MK Stalin’s press conference(and with every right to do so)? With everyone indulging in the same dilution of journalistic ethics, what moral high ground does one party have over the other and intimidate journalists?
Similarly, at a recent press conference by the PMK’s Anbumani Ramadoss to justify the party’s alliance with the AIADMK, he lashed out at reporters, going so far as to say that they needed to drink water and calm down. Why? Because they persisted in asking why a party, that had been intensely critical of the ruling government had now joined hands with them ahead of the General Elections. Anbumani Ramadoss, who indulged in a fair bit of whataboutery, was faced with a barrage of questions on the party having submitted a 200-page complaint to the Tamil Nadu Governor on the AIADMK's alleged corruption in high office. While it was a welcome move that the leader asked press persons to introduce themselves before asking questions, he also implied that reporters should not be 'agitated' as they were not the ones facing the people in the elections.
Every major political leader in the state is guilty of not communicating with the press enough, not taking unflattering questions and worse, shooting down questions as ‘wrong’ for they were simply critical of the leader or their party. At a time when fake news and propaganda dressed up as news stories parade the media landscape in the country, the blanket discrediting of the media sets a dangerous precedent. And for young journalists such as myself, the preservation of the media’s role in our democracy is more important now than ever before. So no, the media is not your enemy. If you cannot answer a question, try and fail. The news cycle doesn’t last forever. Just don’t take it out on us. We have every right to be asking you questions, and more so if you hope to win the people’s mandate.
(Views expressed are the author's own)