The press conferences of CM Pinarayi, giving updates on COVID-19, have, in recent days, turned into a war of words between him and a few media persons.

Kerala CM Pinarayi Vijayan at a press conference in Thiruvananthapuram
news Controversy Tuesday, August 11, 2020 - 08:13

At times calm and other times stormy, Kerala Chief Minister Pinarayi Vijayan’s much talked about press conferences have, in the last three days, been eventful with heated exchanges between him and a few media persons.

The press conferences held in the evenings, meant for updates on COVID-19, have been a space for questions and concerns regarding the pandemic as well as other controversies from the Sprinklr deal, to the gold smuggling case in Thiruvananthapuram to other allegations raised by the Opposition from time to time. Ever since the gold smuggling case cropped up in the first week of July, the Chief Minister has been questioned about the connection between his former Principal Secretary M Sivasankar IAS and one of the key accused, Swapna Suresh.

Four days ago, a question was put to the Chief Minister on his own connection with Swapna. A media person asked about the NIA telling the court that Swapna has claimed she knows him. “Her own advocate had replied to this allegation that many people may know a state’s CM. I don’t need to react to it. Let the National Investigation Agency (NIA) do their job and find out facts,” he said.

Pressed further on the CM office’s influence in the case, Pinarayi Vijayan said it should be checked if the NIA said that or if it’s something claimed by the media. “The question is if anyone has tried to consciously misinterpret what the NIA said,” he said.

What is the intention of such media organisations, he asked.

“Do they want to establish that the Kerala Chief Minister has aided in the smuggling of gold? People are clear on what your agenda is. You are trying to change public opinion, and becoming a media coterie. On what basis do you give news to bring the CM’s chair under a cloud of suspicion?” he asked.

When questions from the media continued on the smuggling case, the Chief Minister accused certain media houses of joining forces and trying to politically destroy him. That is not journalistic ethics, he said. “It is a serious case and should have serious investigation. The truth will come out soon and we can see whose heartbeats will rise. My office and I have nothing to hide,” he said.

Certain media, he continued, have a stand against the politics that he stood for and the Left democratic government. “Long ago, someone said that they would kill themselves if the Communists came to power,” he said, referring to an old media baron’s statement.

If the media had harmless intentions as they claim, the CM said, then they would have stopped with the action taken against the official connected to the CM’s office (Sivasankar IAS). “But you are not satisfied — or rather, the people who send you are not. For them to get satisfaction I should vacate the chair of the Chief Minister. But they don’t decide that, people do,” he said.

He had tried to keep his press conferences to the updates on COVID-19 and not make it a space for political rivalry because he didn’t want to belittle workers of other political parties who were actively involved in the fight against the pandemic, CM Pinarayi said. But if that’s what the media needs, then these press meets can also be used to answer these other issues, he said. “I am answering all your questions or you will say the next day that I ran away from them!” he said.

The row did not end with one press meet. The next evening – on Saturday — there were persistent questions on the smuggling case, with one journalist connecting the government’s pet project, ‘Life Mission’, of building homes for the poor to Swapna (the Malayalam word for dream being swapnam). The accused had given a statement that she made one crore rupees as commission from the UAE charity organisation Red Crescent, which had contributed to the Life Mission.

The CM answered that it was a charity organisation of the UAE and Swapna was a former employee of the UAE Consulate and if misappropriation of money has been done, it will be probed and action taken. There has been no involvement of the government agencies in this, he said. “It was directly done by the NGO and all the government did was give space for it. However, if there is some misappropriation, we need to understand the issue and take action.”

However, the question was repeated a few more times and the CM, like the day before, began to lose his cool.

“You want to take this to a different direction, that’s why you repeat the same questions. You are not trying to understand anything I say,” he bemoaned.

When it was pointed out that it was only natural that the media ask these questions concerning national security, he said, “It is not. Let the investigation proceed its way. It is not the job of the media to point things out to them, to ask the investigating agency to call this person or that. Are fact-less allegations part of media ethics? You are not able to accept this. The agenda of certain media is coming out and there are players behind this.”

To this, a journalist accused the CM of reacting in this manner only when such questions are asked of him, and not saying anything when the media showered his government with praise till a month ago.

The CM retorted that this has become a way for certain people to fight the government since they could not do so politically. “They are using other means for the fight. You want to establish that this government is like the last government (referring to the corruption allegations faced by the UDF), that this CM is like the last one and the CM’s office too works the same way. Don’t get me started on those ugly stories. You want to establish the present CM is going in that direction. It is a clear political conspiracy and some of you have joined it. You should understand that people understand all of this in the right sense. I believe in that.”

The exchange of words continued on the third day (Monday) when the media, plunged directly into questions on allegations as well as the CM’s response to the cyber harassment of a few media persons.

The CM said that he was unaware of such an issue and while healthy debates are good, unhealthy ones are not. He seemed to take it that the media persons were alluding to his own tirade against them as a personal attack and explained that it was not that. “You are criticising my position as a CM, not me personally. Similarly, my words were not a personal attack on any of you but the kind of journalism practiced by certain media organisations.”

Read: Three Kerala journalists harassed online, complain against CPI(M) ‘cyber team’

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