In 1991, women in Nellore district of Andhra Pradesh, began an agitation against arrack — a distilled alcoholic drink — after a few men had died, consuming spurious liquor. The popular Telugu newspaper Eenadu, extended support to the cause and even stated a column called “Saara Pai Samaram, (war on liquor)”. Soon it was made an election issue by the TDP, (as anyone familiar with Andhra politics is aware, Eenadu leans towards TDP, with many even calling it the unofficial mouthpiece). The TDP came to power and implemented a total prohibition.
The policy of prohibition wasn’t entirely noble as it impacted M Subbarami Reddy, a liquor baron and Congress leader who also ran the paper Udayam, which offered the counterview of Eenadu. Soon Udayam closed down, and the policy of prohibition was done away with.
Currently, Andhra Pradesh has the dubious distinction of being the highest consumer of liquor and the media isn’t bothered about alcoholism in the state anymore. Clearly, the media had ulterior political motives and hijacked a noble cause.
Even today, it appears to be applying the same formula to discredit the government’s opponents as can be ascertained from the debate over sexual harassment triggered off by actor Sri Reddy. Rather than help women seek justice, the media has obfuscated the cause and adroitly put the focus on actor-politician Pawan Kalyan, the founder of Jana Sena Party.
Sri Reddy had stripped outside the office of the Movie Artistes Association (MAA) in Hyderabad on April 7.
When asked by the media to comment, Kalyan had said that rather than debating in TV studios, Sri Reddy must file a case and seek justice in the courts. Sri Reddy lashed out at Kalyan on TV and called him a “mad**ch*d” followed by the obscene gesture of showing her finger. She was miffed that Kalyan told her to visit a police station to seek justice.
The media played the clip ad nauseum which seems to have caused deep anguish to the actor’s mother. Kalyan’s brother Naga Babu held a press conference and admonished Sri Reddy. During the conference, the otherwise jovial actor who hosts a comedy show broke down. The media should have shown more sensitivity and focused on sexual harassment, a problem not confined to the tinsel town. It however sensationalised it and cast aspersions on women who work in the film industry.
In a dramatic turn of events, a leaked audio clip of Sri Reddy on the phone with actor Tamanna, found its way to the media. She claimed that famous director Ram Gopal Varma instigated her to attack Pawan Kalyan so that she gets more attention. Varma posted a video on the social media confessing that it was indeed he who "advised" Sri Reddy to abuse Pawan Kalyan so that she gains the spotlight. He went on to bizarrely explain that the word used by Sri Reddy should not be taken seriously, because it was used in a recent Telugu movie, Arjun Reddy and that movie was a box office hit.
All this needs to be seen in the context of a concerted effort to malign Pawan Kalyan by the powers-that-be, using the media. Kathi Mahesh, an obscure film critic suddenly shot to fame due to his comments against Kalyan. It is interesting to note the interest with which the media gave him space in prime time as he studio hopped attacking Kalyan with acerbic personal comments, which had little to do with his films. He claimed (like Sri Reddy) that Kalyan’s fans have abused him on social media.
It is not fair to hold a leader responsible for the actions of self-claimed fans, if the leader in question doesn’t actively encourage or tacitly support them. There has been no evidence of Kalyan indulging in such behaviour. On the contrary, the media was largely silent when in 2015, TDP leaders “graced” an event where a speaker advocated that people of a particular caste must not donate blood, lest their “purity be lost”. The speaker was taking a jibe at Kalyan’s brother and Congress leader Chiranjeevi who advocates blood and eye donation and runs a successful blood bank. None of the leaders present was even reprimanded by the TDP.
As they had done in 1991, the media hijacked the debate around a serious problem and used it to slander those perceived to be a threat to the government.
It appears that the present controversy over Kalyan was whipped up to serve two purposes. The first is to malign him as he enjoys immense support amongst the public — which the TDP banked on in 2014 to come to power, as he had endorsed the NDA. The second is to digress from the failures of the government and the many unkept promises, which people, especially Kalyan had begun to question.
It must be remembered that the TDP government is the only one that has officially "employed journalists" and outsourced its PR work to them. It is sad that rather than cover news, the media is covering up the news, taking “yellow” journalism to its nadir. As citizens we must recall the words of the civils rights activist, Malcolm X: “If you're not careful, the newspapers will have you hating the people who are being oppressed and loving the people who are doing the oppressing.”