The Pinarayi Vijayan govt is facing trouble on multiple fronts. There are charges of corruption and nepotism in granting government jobs to party members and their relatives. His close aides have been found to be involved in anti national activities. The gold smuggling scam is being investigated by NIA and COVID situation is out of hand. As a result, CPI(M) has now gone on the offensive on media. It is abusing journalists and using its social media army to bend the nib of the journalists to its will. However, this suppression of media in Kerala is not making news at national level
Before we discuss further, it must be noted here that the media houses in Kerala generally follow ideological lines. CPI(M) has its own Kairali TV, apart from its mouthpiece Deshabhimani. Manorama News owned by Mamman Mathew has always sided with the Congress party. Apart from that there is a new entrant, Janam TV, which speaks up on Hindu issues. There are many other TV channels with strong or weak loyalty towards left or Islamist ideology. The communist government and its foot soldiers, following in footsteps of global communist regimes, have been harassing those opposing them or questioning them even a bit.
Cyber harassment of journalists and suppression of media in Kerala
In a recent case, Nisha Purushothaman, an anchor with Manorama News, was at the receiving end. The trigger for a slander campaign against her was the news that shutters of the dams were being opened. Nisha while reporting had mistakenly said that the dams had collapsed instead of saying the shutters of the dams were opened! The staff associated with the CPI(M) mouthpiece Deshabhimani started harassing her. Vineeth VU, in charge of circulation at Deshabhimani, started a character assassination campaign. He spread gossip about Nisha committing adultery and alleged that this was leading to her divorce!
Similarly, Cyber Commune, a CPI(M) allied cyber group which favours the CPM government, targeted Asianet News reporters Kamalesh KG and his wife (also a reporter associated with Asianet) Prajula Kamalesh. Asianet has a history of toeing the CPI(M) party line when it comes to reporting. However, in recent times CPI(M) leaders have boycotted the channel and no members of the party attend their evening prime time talk shows. Remember, communism is a totalitarian ideology which demands blind adherence to the party line.
PM Manoj, the Press Secretary to the CM and Deshabhimani resident editor, had recently mentioned in a Facebook post that Asianet news reporters come in couples to the press conferences and ask multiple questions. He insinuated that this was being done since the reporters are not brave enough to face the CM alone! Apparently, he forgot that they are there to ask questions and not to answer them.
The truth is that certain recent events have forced Asianet to clean up their act. As viewers started to realize that instead of news they were being fed communist propaganda, ratings for Asianet came down. Meanwhile, Janam TV viewership started increasing. As a result Asianet also had to ask tough questions to the government and it is now paying the price.
Perception management by the CPI(M)
The public relation factory of the CPI(M) has been failing on multiple fronts recently. This is despite them having people from the cinema field, writers and social media activists on their roll. Against this backdrop, Asianet had recently begun questioning Pinarayi Vijayan`s direct role in the Swapna Suresh gold smuggling saga. It is alleged that Vijayan himself had helped the smuggling gang. The stories of the accused accompanying Vijayan on his foreign sojourns have started to surface in the media.
The daily press conferences of Pinarayi are a curious show. To begin with, all slots in all local news channels are booked for the CM`s Presser for one hour from 6 PM, by the propaganda machinery. Allegedly, huge sums are being paid to the various news channels from the public exchequer to cover this. Vijayan, accompanied by a couple of his advisors and a couple of his cabinet members, comes online for these pressers. What is astonishing is that the advisors and other cabinet ministers who accompany Pinarayi have not spoken even one word during the pressers since the drama started in March 2020. It begets another question : Don’t the advisors and ministers have actual work to attend to? Especially the Health Minister, K. K. Shailaja, could use the time to better manage COVID situation in the state.
For one hour every day Vijayan reads out a script and answers a few questions. He reads out the COVID statistics for the day and adds his party’s take on the days developments. It usually includes something as banal as a list of materials being supplied by the public distribution system like salt, sugar, jaggery etc. It is clearly a lame attempt to hide from answering hard hitting questions.
Meanwhile, the journalists are in a separate room and the questions are put forth via video conference. Vijayan does answer some comfortable questions put by friendly journalists specially from Kairali News and Twenty Four News and openly refuses to answer tough ones.
Journalists are supposed to ask questions towards the end of the session and are usually given 15 minutes. Asianet used this time to ask some tough questions from the CM regarding gold smuggling case and was rewarded with cyber harassment.
Police case and the silence of the national media
Pinarayi has said that since all involved are from the press, they should resolve the issue between themselves through mutual understanding and healthy debates. The harassed journalists have, in the meanwhile, not taken his advice at face value. They have filed police complaints against the members of CPI(M). The CPI(M) has now taken a conciliatory tone and is trying to distance itself from the accused.
The national media including the Editors Guild of India has been completely absent from the scene. They have neither done any story on suppression of media in Kerala nor have they released any letters with eminent signatories. The silence of the liberals is deafening.
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