Mangalam TV, a new Malayalam channel, launched on Sunday with a ‘sensational’ story. The channel put out an audio tape, allegedly of Kerala Transport Minister AK Saseendran in conversation with a woman.
The repercussions were instantaneous. The Minister resigned on moral grounds and the Chief Minister announced a judicial enquiry.
The telecast of the tapes, however, has churned an intense debate amongst journalists in Kerala.
Journalists in Kerala were divided on the telecast, and a large number of them lashed out at Mangalam for being ‘unethical’, calling the telecast an act of moral policing. Another group of journalists however cautioned against excessive criticism, reminding their peers in media that ‘sex tapes’ and stories with sexual content have been used by many media organisations at various points of time.
Many journalists took to Facebook to share their opinion on the Mangalam story.
“If this is journalism, it is time to stop this career,” journalist Harshan Poopparakkaran wrote.
“Down with moral policing in the name of Journalism,” wrote Chandrakanth Vishwanathan, another senior journalist.
Saneesh Elayadath of News 18 slammed Mangalam and said this was not the way to report a story. “If the news was about a Minister who misused his power and forced a woman to give sexual favours, this was not the way to present it,” he wrote.
Senior journalist and editor of Manorama News, Pramod Raman said that telecast of the audio clip was equal to throwing human waste on the public’s face.
Pramod, who was a part of Malayalam’s first news channel Asianet News since its inception in 1995, says that Sashi Kumar, the channel’s founder and journalist, taught them that news was about humanitarianism and objectivity.
“What we saw today was a decayed version of news produced by the first Malayalam news channel that has started without a single person from Sashi Kumar’s school of thought. Sashi Kumar was not just an individual, he was an ideology. Those who followed him might have gone wrong, but none of them have thrown human waste on the public’s face. Being one of Kerala’s first news anchors, I feel ashamed to look at my audience,” Pramod Raman’s post says.
Shahina Nafeesa from Open Magazine wrote that action should be taken against Mangalam if it was proven that the conversation was consensual.
“Saseendran should file a defamation case and should come back as a Minister. It would be a legal fight not just for him, but for many common citizens who can’t wage such battles. It will also be a fight on behalf of many journalists who work ethically,” she wrote.
On the other side, many questioned journalists for their moral outburst and reminded them that the state’s media had telecast bedroom tapes of MLA Jose Thettayil, and that cameras had relentlessly followed solar scam accused, Saritha Nair.
Journalist Javed Parvesh pointed out that many news channels had covered the ‘news’ of former Home Minister Thiruvanjoor Radhakrishnan visiting an actor’s house and Congressman Rajmohan Unnithan being assaulted by people for visiting a woman friend.
“Thanks for Mangalam to for making voyeurism a discussion. I am happy to know that all channels in Kerala will stop their late-night crime bulletins. If Mangalam promotes yellow journalism, many others here do the same,” he wrote on Facebook.
There were also journalists who said that Kerala media’s behavior during Saritha Nair’s appearance before the judicial commission was much more heinous than Mangalam’s exposé.
“A news channel that just launched had made a Minister resign in four hours, and that cannot be written off. Many innocent people have been haunted by different channels just because Saritha Nair had named them. I don’t see any problem in the growth of this paparazzi journalism. Let the secrets of stars and political leaders come out, only Mangalam can do that. Because it is a channel led by journalists, and not management,” Shajan Skariah, Editor of Marunadan Malayali wrote on his Facebook page.
Other journalists said such a comparison was erroneous as there were cases registered in connection with the solar scam while Saseendran’s tapes seemed to be of personal nature.
“There was a complainant (Saritha) in the solar scam and her complaint was that many in power had exploited her. The complainant was close to the corridors of power and had exploited many common citizens. Evidence that showed this woman’s interactions with many powerful people was out in the open. The opposition had protested against the issue and the government was forced to constitute a judicial commission. The police had to go to Coimbatore to track a CD in which was believed to contain evidence. Are these friends (critics) saying that the media should not have covered such an unusual story that had developed in Kerala politics? Or should we have avoided the story because a woman was involved?” asked Jayamohan Sukumaran from Manorama News.