Resignation of a popular Tamil television editor triggers a social media storm

Published : August 01, 2020 22:25 IST

M. Gunasekaran. Photo: By Special Arrangement

On July 31, one of the most popular Editors in Tamil Nadu’s cable news television, M. Gunasekaran, announced to his colleagues that he was resigning from the New 18 Tamil Nadu, part of the News 18 group of companies.

In normal circumstances, his resignation would not have made it to the news columns, led to celebrations by a section, or condemnation by another section on social media— just last year, when the Editor of the Sun TV group, owned Kalanidhi Maran, and the head of Thanthi TV, run by the newspaper Dina Thanthi, had quit, there was no flutter in the State.

Gunasekaran’s case is different because he was among the two Editors and two popular journalists targeted by some individuals claiming that they were out to cleanse the media of those sympathetic to the Dravidar Kazhagam (D.K.), founded by E.V. Ramasamy Periyar, and the Dravida Munnetra Kazhagam (DMK), an offshoot of the D.K and now the main opposition party in Tamil Nadu. These persons—one of them a Vlogger whom a few choose to call a journalist—act as politically unconnected individuals but their actions and the issues they highlight are in sync: targeting the Dravidian movement, and any other party or individual critical of the Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) or the rightwing agenda. The Vlogger, against whom the News 18 group has filed a defamation case, has also been written about in Swarajya, a right-wing media site. Another wayward individual who belongs to the Vlogger’s league was arrested and later released on bail by the Chennai Police after two complaints were lodged against him—one by a woman journalist for abusing and harassing her on social media, and another by a popular Tamil TV channel, Puthiya Thalaimurai, for scurrilous messages against the channel on social media. He was enlarged on bail on his own surety on the the same day of his arrest.

In a farewell note to his colleagues, Gunasekaran said: “Our job is to follow the basic tenets of journalism—depth in news coverage, elegance and honesty in doing it, impartiality, standing on the side of justice, clarity of speech, empathy with the poor and the oppressed… I have great faith that our work, to which all of you had contributed immensely, will be firmly recorded in the history of journalism, and be a matter of debate [in future],” he added.

At least one BJP spokesperson has made it clear that an “ideological war” is being fought in the media space. This is the only indication of a link between the mushrooming right wing Vloggers and the BJP. According to an opposition politician, the BJP’s assessment is that Tamil TV news channels were among the reasons for its successive electoral setbacks in the State, but media observers say that in most popular television debates the BJP and other rightwing groups have been getting a fair representation, sometimes disproportionate to the party’s strength or influence in the State. Regular panelists on news shows argue that the BJP game plan was akin to what it achieved in New Delhi with the Hindi and English channels with a few honourable exceptions—unabashed glorification of the ruling party and the Prime Minister, uncritical acceptance of all the policy decisions of the Centre, jingoism, echoing the communally charged language and rhetoric of the right wing, and so on.