The Madras High Court on Wednesday issued a notice against controversial right-wing YouTuber Maridhas on a petition filed by the TV18 group and M. Gunasekaran, the editor of the TV channel, News 18 Tamil Nadu. Maridhas has also been asked to pull down his videos about the channel and refrain from posting any more videos in this regard. This is the latest chapter in a battle over the media that has been rocking Tamil Nadu for the past few weeks.
The controversy began when Maridhas, who runs the YouTube channel, MaridhasAnswers, with over 364,000 subscribers, released a set of videos criticizing the News 18 Tamil Nadu channel. Maridhas alleged that the channel’s editor, Gunasekaran, as well as a large section of journalists in Tamil Nadu were associated with or sympathetic to the opposition Dravida Munnetra Kazhagam, the Dravidar Kazhagam (a Periyarist organization) and the Left. He also accused them of being anti-BJP. He also targeted a bureau chief of the channel, Haseef Mohamed, of having links with a group called Karuppar Koottam. This group had some months ago put out a video mocking a devotional song dedicated to the god Murugan.
The videos and the subsequent social media outrage led to a huge polarization in Tamil Nadu. Maridhas declared that he had written to the Editor of the News 18 group, Vinay Sarawagi and got a positive response accepting his accusations. He shared a screenshot, purportedly of a mail to this effect. However, Sarawagi quickly dissociated himself from Maridhas’ claim.
Subsequently, News 18 filed a police complaint accusing Maridhas of defamation and trying to incite communal tensions. On July 23, the Crime Branch filed an FIR based on the complaint.
At the same time, the news channel reportedly also took action against its staff. The Scroll reported that the editorial authority of Gunasekaran was also curtailed. Haseef Mohamed was asked to resign, as was a sub-editor for his social media activism. The campaign against Haseef has been particularly vicious, linking him to Karuppar Koottam and holding him responsible for anti-Hindu content.
“I was wrongfully accused of having a link with the YouTube channel, which is absolutely false. My religion was also used to defame me and create communal tension. I lodged a complaint with the Chennai Commissioner, but no action was taken”, Haseef told NewsClick.
Gunsakeran is not the only prominent journalist being targeted. S Karthigaichelvan, the Managing Editor of the Puthiya Thalaimurai channel, has also been attacked severely. Both of them are amongst the most well-known anchors in Tamil Nadu.
The controversy has also become a full-fledged political controversy. The BJP and the right-wing has for long nursed a grudge against sections of the Tamil media, which they hold responsible for the party’s failure to perform well in the State. As the controversy broke out, the national secretary of the Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP), H Raja, joined the bandwagon.
(National secretary of the Bharatiya Janata Party H. Raja tweets demanding action against Haseef Mohamed for alleged links with the Karuppar Koottam group)
The media fraternity in Tamil Nadu, however, has responded strongly to these attempts at character assassination. R Vijayasankar, the editor of Frontline, said, “It is inevitable that most of the journalists from the state have a political background. It is an impact of the social justice tradition of Dravidian parties holding on to power for 52 years continuously. The BJP is unable to find a space and hence accuses professional journalists of being representatives of political parties”.
In a webinar organized by the Alliance for Media Freedom, N. Ram, former Editor-in-Chief of The Hindu, said, “The right-wing groups are uncomfortable with the progressive nature of the mainstream Tamil media. I can say that sources have confirmed that the pressure on the channel management from Delhi was behind the termination.”
He also emphasised the importance of the media’s democratic and critical nature for a healthy democracy. “The media should continue to convey credible information, continue to play a critical role, educational role, and agenda building. The rogue practices of the extreme right need to be stopped by the responsible media houses,” he said.
Journalists’ bodies, parties take a stand
Journalists’ association and political parties have also opposed the right-wing campaign. The Tamil Nadu Union of Journalists (TUJ), Madras Reporters’ Guild, News Readers’ Association, and other major organisations have condemned the recent developments.
The president of TUJ said, “The country is faring poorly in the freedom of the press [index] and the present developments that question the professional honesty of the journalists complement this fact. The governments should ensure freedom for the press.”
The opposition parties, led by the DMK, have formed a media protection forum to counter the threats posed by the right-wing forces. Congress, CPI(M), CPI, Marumalarchi Dravida Munnetra Kazhagam, Viduthalai Chiruthaigal Katchi have joined the forum.
The Tamil Nadu Progressive Writers and Artists Association held a virtual conference for the ‘Rights of the Press’ and called upon the like-minded people to save the media from the right-wing victimisation. The conference also condemned the media houses for yielding to the pressure of the Sangh Parivar outfits.