Where did Tamil Nadu Media stand?

Updated: May 30, 2019

Dr. S. Arulchelvan:

Parliamentary elections in Tamil Nadu are remarkable, drawing the attention of national media. In this State, the national parties are minor players while regional parties have a strong hold. Whether Congress or BJP, they must depend on one of the regional parties like the Dravida Munnetra Kazhagam (DMK) or the All India Anna Dravida Munnetra Kazhagam (ADMK) in the State. This time too, even though it was an election to the Lok Sabha, here it was a direct fight between the DMK and the ADMK. Putting its disappointments in the 2014 Lok Sabha election behind, the DMK this time grabbed all the 19 seats it contested, while its allies won 18 seats — the DMK-led coalition thus secured 37 of the total 38 seats that went to polls (the vote in Vellore was cancelled following massive haul of unaccounted cash). The ADMK could take just the Theni seat, a total reversal of fortune from the 37 Lok Sabha seats it had won in 2014. Of the 22 Assembly seats that simultaneously went for by-poll, the ruling ADMK did much better with 9 seats compared to 12 seats for DMK. The Palaniswamy government thus faces no threat as of now, but the DMK must be fancying its chances in 2021, after back-to-back defeats in Assembly elections in 2011 and 2016. This was the very first time both parties were facing a major election without their prominent leaders. Kalaignar Karunanidhi had led the DMK for many decades in Tamil Nadu; for ADMK, this was an even more important election because Selvi Jayalalithaa was identified as the sole face of the party for last three decades.

During the campaign, various issues were covered by the Tamil Nadu media. The initial days of the campaign itself created a buzz. Pattali Makkal Katchi (PMK) led by Dr Anbumani Ramadoss formed an alliance with the ruling ADMK. It should be noted that prior to the alliance, PMK had strongly opposed ADMK, and its former MP Dr. Ramadoss made some comments against Chief Minister Eddappadi K Palaniswamy and Deputy Chief Minister O. Pannerselvam. Having to call a press meet to explain the alliance, Dr. Ramadoss had to field some hard questions from the media. In another incident, a video released by Vikatan TV in YouTube caught everyone’s eyes. In that video, the anchor interviewed Theni ADMK candidate and Deputy Chief Minister O. Pannerselvam’s son P Ravindranath Kumar. Thereafter, the anchor spoke with an old lady who revealed that ‘a token had been issued’ and they’ll get money on returning the token after the meeting was over. The video trended on social media, exposing how the electoral moral code of conduct was being violated. The Election Commission had once remarked that the costliest elections in India are held in Tamil Nadu, and general election 2019 was no exception. There were allegations of illegal cash transaction across the State and the EC conducted occasional raids. Around 11 crores were seized in raids conducted on the premises of people close to DMK treasurer Duraimurugan, whose son Kathir Anand was the party’s candidate from Vellore. This incident was widely covered by media due to which Vellore became the only constituency in which polling was cancelled.

This election wasn’t just about DMK and ADMK. RK Nagar MLA TTV Dinakaran’s Amma Makkal Munnetra Kazhagam, Seeman’s Naam Tamizhar Katchi and newbie Kamal Haasan’s Makkal Neethi Maiyam also contested the election. A major difficulty faced by unapproved parties was to popularise their symbols among the public in a short period, and it was the media that came to their rescue. During the evening debates in news channels, party symbols were shown when their respective spokespersons were holding forth. For example, if Mr Thangathamizh Selvan participated in a debate, his name along with his party’s name and symbol (gift) were also shown. Interviews were conducted with prominent leaders like MK Stalin, Minister Jayakumar, TTV Dinakaran and P. Chidambaram. Most of these weren’t just run of the mill stuff as they provided quality content and helped the viewers make up their minds about issues and candidates.

Regarding electoral coverage by media in Tamil Nadu, it has to be kept in mind that most of the media houses are owned or supported by political parties. So the partisan nature of media houses is known to the public and they do not simply take at face value whatever content is disseminated. People also keep checking other newspapers and TV channels and even social media for correct information related to politics. For example, Puthiya Thalaimurai is owned by Dr. Paarivendhar, the candidate for Perambalur constituency, whose party is in alliance with the DMK; it was therefore hardly surprising that Puthiya Thalaimurai took a pro-DMK stand. Sun TV Network and Dinakaran newspaper also gave full backing and platform for propaganda to the DMK-led alliance. Jaya TV supported TTV Dinakaran’s party. News J, which is owned by ADMK, took a pro-ADMK stand. Similary, Kalaignar TV owned by the DMK was in favour of the party. Several daily newspapers and TV channels supported the ADMK-led alliance which contains the BJP. Only a few channels like News 7 and News 18 tried to give unbiased coverage. Kamal Haasan’s MNM party and Seeman’s NTK however got limited focus in media except for a few controversial statements. Both Kamal Haasan and Seeman utilised social media effectively. While Kamal Haasan released occasional ad campaigns, Seeman took to social media with recordings of his speeches in public meetings.

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