news Saturday, July 18, 2015 - 05:30
  The past year has not been very good for the Maran brothers. Not only did Kalanithi Maran lose Spice Jet, they have also been denied the mandatory Union Home Ministry security clearance for three of their core businesses – cable television company Kal Cables, FM radio broadcasting stations and - the flagship company – Sun TV Network comprising 33 TV channels, there by rendering the license-less to run the businesses. You can read about this here and here. The latest whammy has been a concerted effort by political opponents (for the want of a better phrase) of Maran brothers to keep the pressure up on them and anybody else supporting them over the security clearance issue. In a two part series in The New Indian Expresson July 13 and 14, RSS ideologue and well-known chartered accountant, S Gurumurthy launched a scathing attack on the DMK-linked Maran brothers. He takes on the Attorney General of India for reportedly giving a legal opinion to the Ministry of Information and Broadcasting that security clearance cannot be denied to the Sun Group owned by the Maran family. Quoting from a Madras High Court judgment on Kal Cables case (which has been analysed in detailed by TNM here) and his own expose of the BSNL telephone exchange scandal back in 2011, Gurumurthy says that the Marans are indeed a security threat to nation and must be denied security clearance. In an even bigger blow, and what could hurt Marans financially, the Government of India recently denied them the opportunity to participate in the FM radio auctions since they do not have Home Ministry clearance. With several cases pending in the courts over the issues, and having sent letters to Ministers, the Marans have now decided to hit back hard and also seem to be trying to court public opinion. Their strategy – this is a freedom of expression issue and does not bode well for the media. In an editorial on July 16, Economic Times argues that there are two problems with the denial of security clearance to Sun FM, one that the entire company, its shareholders and employees cannot be punished for the alleged crimes of their owners. Secondly, the editorial argues that it is a freedom-of-expression issue. “If it becomes established precedent that a media group can be stripped of its right to operate if its promoters are under investigation for economic crimes, assorted interests would bring charges of impropriety against some or all media promoters, and demand that the media they own be shut down,” says ET. In the past 24 hours, three journalist associations and unions have come in support of the Sun TV group. On July 17, the Consortium of Journalists in India, registered in Chennai, released a statement expressing strong disapproval over the Central government‘s move, “Using political change to choke media voice and invoking such serious excuses as security threats to nation, is condemnable, and CJI will never miss an opportunity to oppose such colourable exercise of power by any party, any government and anywhere in the world.” On July 18, the Madras Reporters Guild has urged the Union Government to review its decision.  The Guild said that the move “could also raise the question of independence of the media and whether freedom of the press is sought to be curtailed howsoever be the legitimacy of the cases involved. If any senior executive is arrested or found guilty, it shall be open to the media organisation and its Board to continue to run the organisation with other executives available.” On the very same day, the Madras Union of Journalists also issued a similar statement. What is even more significant is that several political leaders in Tamil Nadu, including the influential DMK chief M Karunanidhi, have come out in support of Sun TV. Karunanidhi said in a statement that the move by the government amounts to “strangling democracy” and that it was based on unproven allegations. Earlier, TN Congress chief EVKS Elangovan and MDMK chief Vaiko had also condemned the move. Update: Media reports state that TN CPM leader G Ramakrishnan and VCK chief Thirumavalan have also taken a stand against the government for denying security clearence for Sun group. Sun TV’s strategy, TNM has learned through sources and from their court files, is three-fold. First, they claim to be innocent until proven guilty. Second, they question if the charges against them can add up to being a national security threat. Thirdly, they argue that if they are to be denied security clearance, then all other media-groups with charges against them should also face similar action.