Nupur Basu | TheHoot.org

The Tamil media was clearly negating a powerful people’s movement with its inexplicable prejudices which were fully exploited by the security forces. NUPUR BASU dissects the coverage of the anti-nuclear plant agitation at Kudankulam across print, TV and social media.

Sahayam, a 42-year-old fisherman from the Tamil Nadu coast, had climbed a rock on the coastline and was among the thousands who were protesting against the Kudankulam Nuclear Power Plant in Tamil Nadu on September 2012. Suddenly an aircraft which was keeping a vigil on the crowd reportedly swooped dangerously low. A frightened Sahayam lost his balance and fell on the rocks. On being rushed to hospital in Nagercoil, he was declared dead from a head injury. Sahayam was father of four children, three daughters and a son. His wife now has four children to feed and educate, without a source of income on shore or at sea.

Sahayam was one of the two fishermen who lost their lives during the heightened Kudankulam agitation last month. The other fisherman, Antony John, was shot down when police opened fire on the protesters. Antony was also father of two children–a school-going son and a college-going daughter. His family at first refused to take his body in protest. Finally they relented. The family was offered compensation and assured that that his daughter would be given a job. Sahayam’s family, however, has received no such assurance of compensation. Could compensation have been linked to the level of coverage?
The question I asked myself when I read an agency report on Sahayam’s death was: just how many newspapers and TV channels told us the story of Sahayam? A search revealed the shocking reality: hardly any.

As a journalist schooled for the last three decades to tell stories of those on the margins in both print and prime-time television, I saw this clearly as a missed opportunity. The media, as far as I was concerned, had ignored a powerful human interest story which needed to have been told to the people of this country. The report should have raised questions regarding Sahayam’s tragic death that was caused by a fall due the scare of a low-flying vigil aircraft. Why was the aircraft flying so low? Is this how the Indian state should be scaring its poor fishermen who are legitimately protesting against a nuclear power plants in the world’s largest democracy–with technology from the sky?

Many questions could have been asked. But unfortunately, they were not. The next question came to my mind–if these stories were not given a good play or reported well–then what was the reason for it? Was it just lazy journalism? Was it that urban reporters did not care about the death of poor fishermen? Or was it deliberate exclusion?

It is with these questions in mind that I decided to examine the coverage in the national and Tamil media and also the social media space with regards to the Kudankulam agitation in recent weeks. These are the good, bad, and ugly trends I spotted.

Tamil press : “ The anti-nuclear agitation in Kudankulam was a reality that had to be reflected in the coverage of the Tamil newspapers. So they could not escape that. But they tried to twist the facts and hide some facts. The media hyped up the agitation but the biggest mistake they made was that they did not highlight the 25-year-old history of this agitation that began in 1987 and, not in 2011, as it was made out by most of the media”, said T S S Mani, a journalist who assesses 15 newspapers from Tamil Nadu every morning in Chennai on Win TV on a programme titled “News and Views”.

A close scrutiny of the headlines in the Tamil newspapers revealed the bias. A Dinamalar headline (all headlines have been translated from Tamil to English) on September 21 with a Chennai dateline screamed “Siege of Idindakarai – Udayakumar is like a rat caught in a trap”. Next to the story was a big three- column graphics of the sea, protesters in boats, and aircraft flying in a formation just above, keeping a vigil over the protesters almost celebrating this bizarre theatre that played out in the Bay of Bengal off Kudankulam in September 2012. It is these very air surveillance aircraft that had triggered Sahayam’s fall and his death. But the paper was silent on that.

Another headline from the same paper with a Delhi dateline had a dramatic headline: ‘PROOF !’ accompanied by a sub-headline which read “ Big hit for anti-Kudankulam activists”. The copy said that 3200 NGOs in Tamil Nadu were being ‘serviced’ by US dollars and quoted the central government saying they had released the list. The report went on to quote Prime Minister Manmohan Singh saying that Kudankulam activists were getting funds from abroad. A box item in blue next to it gave the breakup of the foreign funds received. The copy said that according to the Home Ministry sources, Indian NGOs received Rs 10,000 crore in 2009-10. Of this, Chennai received Rs 871 crore, Bangalore Rs 702 crore, and Mumbai Rs 606 crore. In Chennai, World Vision India, which works with the poor and marginalised, received the maximum amount of nearly Rs 209 crore.

Most of the headlines were shrill and dramatic: “Every day Rs 5 crores is OUT!!” and the copy went on to say that in the last six months Rs 900 crore of taxpayers’ money had been wasted owing to the agitation, and the struggle had affected the economy of the State. Quoting a director of the Nuclear Power Corporation of India Ltd. SA Bharadwaj, the paper said that “this was electricity that Tamil Nadu needed very badly and they would have to wait for another six months for it.”

The intention to malign the protesters and the leaders of the movement such as Dr S P Udayakumar, Convenor, People’s Movement Against Nuclear Energy (PMANE), was naked. A professor who taught literature at a US university, Udayakumar returned to Tamil Nadu to run an NGO for the poor and has been campaigning against the Kudankulam Nuclear power Plant during the last ten years. One headline read: “Mullivaykkal talk: case against Udayakumar of sedition.” The copy was even more damaging. It said: “Udayakumar is said to be fasting into his sixth day but doctors say he is hale and hearty and therefore he is lying!” There was a box item with the title” Secret is out!”

Dinathanthi, the largest-circulated Tamil dailywas no better. It ran headlines with a dateline from Nagercoil: “From abroad Rs 30 crore has arrived” .The story is attributed to officials in the government. Another report headlined: “Tension because of police bandobast in Kudankulam” had only the police version of the story and no voices of the protesting women and fisherpeople while another with the headline “Bank a/c details of Nagercoil NGO is being scrutinised” gave the version of the NGO, the Rural Uplift Centre, which says that it was using its money for poverty alleviation and not anti–Kudankulam protests. A report put out the appeal by Madurai lawyers to the Tamil Nadu IGP “to arrest Uday Kumar”.

Dinamalar banner headlines continued: “List being prepared of NGOs doing illegal activity”. The report quoted the “Q” branch police. Provocative headlines such as “Udaya Kumar is being watched carefully: will the NSA be used against him?” are embellished further in the copy by suggesting that if the anti-nuclear campaigner tried to escape from the sea, the Coast Guard should give him hot pursuit. If the Central Government had quite lost the plot with the Kudankulam agitation by slapping sedition cases on protesting villagers and fisherpeople (the numbers being quoted both by the media and the activists varies between 600 and 8,000 sedition cases!), the media too had excelled itself in Tamil Nadu in turning judge and jury with regards to reportage on the people’s agitation against the nuclear plant.

The sensational tone of reportage had all the makings of a Kollywood film. It was just a matter of time before you would see this on celluloid. Only one thing was sure: the hero will be the IGP of the Q Branch in Chennai and the villains will be the fishing communities. The formula box item too was there with the story. It went on to list how many cases were there against different players in the movement and it listed 55 cases against Udayakumar’s name.

The paper ran a headline with a Tirunelveli dateline: “Vottam” meaning ‘Fleeing: Udaya kumar’s gang”. The copy of the report has a play on the word Udaya which in Tamil means to kick and it says that Udayakumar is fleeing to escape the kick from the people. Then there was a box item which says “bussaanadhu porattam” meaning “the agitation has fizzled out”.

Clearly the direct target was the convenor of the movement. Headlines such as “Udayakumar’s hunger strike–how much did they spend on it?”, “Who is the cause of the loss to the exchequer?”, “Without losing any time Udaykumar needs to be arrested!”, “Normal life has been hit in Idinthakarai — Udaya Kumar is hiding to escape the cases” were the rule rather than the exception. The headlines indicate exactly what the copies contain. Sources: government, police, Home Ministry and the nuclear establishment. Why one man should have occupied so much headline space in the Tamil media when the pictures from the ground were clearly showing hundreds of women and children and ordinary fishermen joining in the agitation against the plant, is anybody’s guess. There was not even an attempt to seek another view from the ordinary protesters. The Tamil media was clearly negating a powerful people’s movement with its inexplicable prejudices which were fully exploited by the security forces.

Mindset

Yet another police sourced story had the headline: ‘Extremist terrorist groups caught’ and the report says that Kudankulam is being used to expand activities of terrorists. The blatant manner in which ordinary poor fishermen and their families, protesting peacefully by going into the sea and forming a human chain, are dubbed as “terrorists” clearly revealed the mindset of a large majority of the Tamil press and its bias and lack of independence. This was journalism at its poorest.

“The Tamil Nadu public were misled by this tone of coverage which suggested that this agitation was just one year old. We know that it started from the time the nuclear deal was signed with Russia in 1987. In fact in 1987, 1988, and 1989, there were more people protesting against it than today. But the media either has amnesia or it has reporters and editors who are too young and do not know the history of this struggle. At that time there was no electronic medium which could cover the agitations and hence it has been forgotten. But the press was there then too. Why have they chosen to ignore this long history of protest against Kudankulam?” asks Mani, the Win TV anchor.

There were exceptions to the rule. Well-known writer/journalist Gnani on the other hand devoted endless columns on the genesis of the anti nuclear controversy playing out in Tamil Nadu’s coastline in the weekly magazine Kalki. Anand Vigathan also broke its usual film industry dominated coverage to give space to the Kudankulam stir.

Tamil TV: Was the narrative then any different in the Tamil TV media?

According to journalists in Chennai, the rival television channels in Tamil Nadu– Sun TV and Jaya TV–were broadly in favour of the plant. But while Sun News tried to at least present the face of objectivity by holding debates on programmes such as “Nerukku Ner” (Face off) with both sides well represented and its news programmes gave space to the protesting fishing communities and the huge presence of security forces, Jaya TV remained largely partisan in its pro-Kudankulam coverage.

According to media watchers in Tamil Nadu, Jaya TV was supporting the people’s agitation till March 19 this year but that changed after the by-election results were announced on March 18. After that, the Tamil Nadu Chief Minister began to support the plant and Jaya TV largely showed statements of support for the plant by Jayalalitha.

It seemed as though both these channels run by two different arms of the rival political parties–DMK and AIADMK–had missed a television moment to bring objective reportage of a massive people’s grassroots movement to its viewers mired as they were in their own political compulsions. They simply proved what critics had said all along: there can be no real objectivity in disseminating news on channels owned by political parties.

Yet there was confusion and hunger among viewers to get to the root of the problem in Kudankulam. Win TV offered discussions on the pitfalls of nuclear power, led by T S S Mani. “People were so happy to listen to us analysing the apprehensions regarding the nuclear power plant. But this angered the government. They took off our channel in several villages in and around Kudankulam. It was restored only after six months,” Mani told

Bucking the pro-nuclear coverage was another Tamil channel that has positioned itself as independent voice without any political patronage–Puthiya Thalaimurai, run by New Generation Media Corporation Private Limited. A programme called Routhram Pazhagu translated to mean Anger against Injustice or Practice of Anger had detailed analyses of the possible fallout of the Kudankulam plant on the lives of the fisherpeople with or without a Fukushima type accident.

The show introduced by an anchor was followed by ground reports which included diverse voices–voices that were very critical of the government’s high handedness in dealing with the agitation. The interviews refreshingly gave the much-needed space to women. They interviewed well-known women lawyers, academics, and most importantly, the women protesters who, in fact, have been the nerve-centre of the anti-nuclear struggle in Kudankulam in recent years/months and weeks. In one programme, Nithya Ramakrishnan, a well-known rights advocate, said that laws such as POTA and the Goonda Act are being misused by the State and Centre to stifle a genuine people’s movement. “If you do not support the government projects or the entry of multinationals, then you are an anti-national. Binayak Sen who took medicines to the tribal people in forests of Chattisgarh became anti-national. By saying this I too could be dubbed anti-national by the State,” she said.

In the same programme, Usha Ramanathan, an expert on law and poverty warned: “The state is not realising that by stifling any dissent in this manner, the state will become totalitarian and it will suffer in the end.” The video then cuts to archival pictures of Gandhi, Nehru, Tilak, and Bhagat Singh and a voice-over follows: “During the Indian independence struggle leaders such as Gandhi, Tilak, Bhagat Singh and Periyar were jailed under colonial laws for indulging in “anti-national activity”. Now these very same laws are being used in Kashmir, Mizoram, and the north-east. Instead of finding a peaceful solution, the state had jailed 50,000 people in Kudankulam with over 132 different cases against them. Of this around 3450 have sedition cases foisted against them”.

An expert speaking at a rally raised a pointed question: “You call them anti-national and accuse them of waging war against the state when there has not been a single incident of violence. How then does a peaceful protest against a nuclear plant amount to sedition? Who is waging a war against the country?”

Another programme, Routhram Pazhagu, did what probably no Tamil paper or TV channel has done so far. It justified the people’s genuine fear over the Kudankulam plant by documenting case studies of children who have died or are malformed and also women who have developed serious health issues as their family members are working in Kalpakkam. Those interviewed with the deformities allege that it is owing to their proximity to the Kalpakkam nuclear plant.

“We had been consistently highlighting stories on Sterlite, Sivakasi fire cracker industry…so the protests against Kudankulam fitted perfectly in that scheme of coverage”, Bala Kailasam, programme head, Puthiyathalaimurai TV, told the Hoot. This Tamil channel came closest to doing objective reporting without fear of the establishment or treating the nuclear issue as a “holy cow”.

But it had its an adverse impact. Bala Kailasam has since been shifted from the channel’s news programme to the entertainment segment in the channel. “Was it a possible fallout of his allowing for a very pro-people and non establishment coverage on Kudankulam?”, a Chennai-based journalist said.


Makkal TV, run by the Pattali Makkal Kachchi (PMK), also reportedly gave sympathetic coverage to the people. If Jaya TV had done a flip flop from once opposing the plant to now supporting it, Sun TV which had supported the Kudankulam plant was of late tilting in its coverage towards the protesters. “In the last two-three weeks Sun TV is trying to show the people’s stuggle a little more than before, probably to tarnish the image of Chief Minister Jayalalitha who supports the project”, T S S Mani pointed out. Sun TV gave a lot of coverage in its news on the MDMK chief Vaiko’s dharna opposing the nuclear plant saying it would “spell doom for the fishing community in Tamil Nadu and Kerala”.

Poor media response

While the coverage peaked during the human chain formation in the sea and the dramatic blockade of the Tutucorin port by 1500 fishing vessels, in recent weeks the coverage has hit weaker patches. “The systemic violence unleashed on the villagers was simply blocked by all media–there were no media persons covering the attacks on the people although tension was running high in the villages. When we informed the media the next day, one or two came and they reported it as “mild lathi charge”. It was not a mild lathi charge by any stretch of imagination”, says V Suresh, general secretary of PUCL. According to him, the doctors who had set up medical camps to treat the children, women, and men who were tear gassed, had registered complaints of stomach-related problems from the victims. “But once again the media has not responded with independent coverage of this”, Suresh said.

Like the print media in Tamil, the TV media too, with a few exceptions were largely orchestrating the views that supported the setting up of the nuclear plant. The stories on police atrocities on the people, the unfair crackdown on NGOs by the Central Government which would further hit the marginalised communities they worked with, were simply absent. Although they were the stuff of good television exposes of governmental high handedness, they were given a short shift for political expediency.

English press 

According to senior Chennai-based journalist and art critic Sadanand Menon, “The Kudankulam ‘coverage’ has been distinguished by apathy and half heartedness in the English and Tamil press. One realises the shallowness in our media when it comes to such issues. There’s not even passing expertise or familiarity with the subject, with the result, the official line is what they get impressed by. The big English dailies like The Hindu have made do with reports from local correspondents without being pro-active and sending out more experienced and informed correspondents/editors out there and creating the much-needed interface and debate. Nevertheless The Hindu’s editorials have been good but it has failed to perform the role a leading paper should be playing when something major happens in its backyard–it’s like if The Telegraph were to report Nandigram in a desultory manner!”

Across the board critics and readers said that the New Indian Express was one English newspaper that came out on top in terms of coverage that resembled independent journalism. Their ground zero reports were consistent. If a picture can tell a thousand stories, the New Indian Express followed that saying for maximum effect. Its editorial decisions to frontpage a symbolic protest of little children buried in sand (with just their heads above the sand) along the Kudankulam coast made an impactful front page. However, in contrast, many described The Hindu field reporting as weak, inconsistent, and pro-state.

Says V Suresh, national general secretary of PUCL, Tamil Nadu: “The media played a huge role in having court judgements turn against us. Take for example the Public Interest Litigation (PIL) that we filed in the Madras High Court. The court just rejected it based on the The Hindu’scoverage of Abdul Kalam’s visit to Kudankulam and his safety assurances. The Hindu had given unprecedented media publicity to his visit and the judge actually waved copies of the newspaper in court and dismissed the cases saying: “If the Hindu reports that Kalam is saying it is safe, then it is safe.” We were back to the days when the printed report was the Gospel Truth.”

In its editorial space, however, The Hindu attempted to restore the balance with consistent op-ed articles on the pros and cons of nuclear power. In fact, that actually encouraged a healthy point and counter-point sort of “debate” across op-eds. Rahul Siddharthan’s “The real questions from Kudankulam” on September 14 and “Five points in the future of nuclear energy” on October 5 in the op-ed page in The Hindu, “Where the mind if full of fear” on September 19 by Suvrat Raju and M V Ramanna, Mohit Abraham’s “Why Kudankulam dissolved into fission and acrimony” on September 25, ”The heat is on thermal power too on September 26” by S Nagesh Kumar and M Rajeev, ”Is it a crime to question?” by Kalpana Sharma on September 30, all added to raising awareness on both sides of the nuclear energy debate.

Interestingly, while former Editor-in-Chief N Ram categorically came out in support of the Kudankulam plant during television debates, the present editor, Siddharth Vardarajan described the people’s struggle against the plant as genuine and advocated a robust regulator such as the French one to ensure that disasters did not take place. “In a democracy you need to convince people” Vardarajan said in a TV debate.

The Hindustan Times (HT) searches on web for articles revealed around 210 stories related to Kudankulam. On September 13, the HT carried a column by senior journalist Praful Bidwai–March of folly–whose sub-heading read: “Nuclear projects in India can be thrust on unwilling citizens at gun point.” It gave the macro picture of all of India’s nuclear power plants in Jaitapur in Maharashtra where people have been waging a struggle against it for the last five years, Gorakhpur in Haryana, Mithi Virali in Gujarat, Kovvada in Andhra Pradesh, Haripur in West Bengal, Chutka in Madhya Pradesh, and Banswada in Rajasthan. The article talked about the public hearing in Delhi attended by 100 activists opposing nuclear power specially heightened by the catastrophe at Fukushima and talked about the poor record of India’s Department of Energy (DAE) and Nuclear Power Corporation of India Limited (NPCIL).

Although the pink papers largely ignored the issue, the Business Standard had almost a full page in-depth article on September 27 titled: “It’s ‘reining’ restrictions for NGOs” by Anup Tiwari, who went onto say that in the season of reforms, a spate of insensitive regulations is threatening the very existence of the non-profit sector. “On the one hand the government is planning to make CSR mandatory and on the other, it formulates provisions that deter corporate contributions,” the blurb to the article read. In the copy Tiwari wrote: “During the recent protests against the nuclear power plant, the government went on to brand the NGOs funded by foreign sources as instigators. A knee-jerk reaction was cancelling FCRA registrations of thousands of NGOs, almost 20 per cent of whom were in Tamil Nadu.”

The Times of India had minimalist coverage on the Kudankulam agitation. On September 10 it had a one-column report headlined “Kudankulam march foiled by police”. It, however, carried a column by Binyak Sen titled “Sedition law is against the spirit of democracy”. Tehelka was one of the upcountry magazines that had consistent pro-fisherpeople stories with several ground zero reports by their reporters defying prohibitory orders that had been clamped there at the peak of the agitation in September.

In the third week of September, while the agitation was at its height in Kudankulam, the story got swept away by the FDI tsunami. It was during this news black hole that the Tamil Nadu police unleashed brutalities on the villagers living nearby. They went into homes and beat up women, children, old and young and destroyed whatever possessions they had in their homes.

I can vouch for this brutality as it is a sight which I have personally documented on several occasions while covering caste conflicts in southern Tamil Nadu in Kodiyankulam and Tirunelveli when I was reporting for NDTV. Under the guise of an operation, ironically titled Operation Venus, the police had gone on a rampage during an attack on Dalit villages in Kodiyankulam. Bicycles, children’s text books, grains from the ration shop in the village, fertilizers, name it… and it had been dumped in the village well, contaminating the only source of drinking water in the village. Dalit families had been assaulted and their possessions such as television set, idly maker, fans, furniture all broken to teach them never to dissent. Even the stray dogs had not been spared.

Brutality ignored

This round of attacks on protesting villagers had a similar echo. Many were injured and had to be treated in hospitals. But unfortunately these attacks did not find the space it ought to have either in Tamil or English media. Kalpana Sharma, in her column in The Hindu reported on the molestation of women protesters by the police. In majority of the coverage, stories of police brutality had simply been ignored as most journalists in the region preferred to practise “embedded” journalism.

Overall, the coverage in the national media was largely “jingoistic” and steeped in the mindset that anyone who challenges nuclear power is a “traitor to the nation”. This was clearly in evidence from the way the Tamil press and TV media had targeted the movement’s leaders and those in the agitation. Critics dubbed this as “unacceptable journalism”.

National English TV
Far away from the heat of the Kudankulam agitation, how did the English channels view this agitation? Here too lay a mixed bag. CNN- IBN did a number of on- the- ground reports and prime time studio talk shows. Rajdeep Sardesai’s 9 pm discussion titled “Are Indian nuclear power plants really unsafe?” showcased the polarised views presented by M R Srinivasan, former Chairman of the Atomic Energy Commission, and and PMANE convenor Udayakumar. The neutral experts were Prabir Purkayastha, of the National Forum of Science and Siddhartha Vardarajan, Editor, The Hindu.

Srinivasan stuck to his position on nuclear energy and Udayakumar said that while the whole world was walking one way, India was walking the other way on the issue of nuclear power plants. Both Purkayastha and Vardarajan said the people had every right to express their concerns and it was for the government to ensure transparency and set up an independent regulator on whether or not the Kudankulam and other plants were abiding by safety norms. However, Rajdeep ended the programme with his signature Editor’s take on a nationalistic tone: “Surely the need is to rise above ideological positions, yes, focus on safety, but also focus on what best serves the national interest.” The channel also played up Kalam’s thumbs up to the plant and had several reports showcasing his visit to the plant and his announcement of a Rs 200 crore package of development, which was promptly rejected by the fishing communities.

On another programme co-anchored by Suhasini Haidar and Veeraghav on CNN-IBN you had Udaya Kumar pitted against Renuka Chowdhury of the Congress. Ms Chowdhury in her usual combative style tried to deflect the questions being put to her both by the anchor and Udaykumar saying, “Everybody and its mother wants nuclear power. Are you wanting to guarantee us a lifetime supply of candles or what?” Her use of the word “Taliban” to compare the activists in Kudankulam provoked Suhasini to retort: “Ms Chowdhury, your government is in the 1960s mode coming down on anyone who dares to dissent.”

The most powerful and focussed discussion came from Karan Thapar on his programme on CNN-IBN: “Is the government’s action against NGOs justified?” In that he had MOS, PMO V Narayansamy firmly in the dock for attempting to stifle any form of dissent. Thapar told the minister categorically: “People have a right to dissent; you are trying to curb that right because you do not like dissent”. Karan’s was perhaps one of the most categorical statements on Indian television openly questioning the strong arm tactics of the UPA and the Tamil Nadu government in trying to crush the anti–Kudankulam agitation.

NDTV too had several ground zero reports from its Tamil Nadu correspondent, Sam Daniel. In his piece to camera, he asked: “Is it right to criminalise ordinary citizens and charge them with sedition?” There were robust studio discussions too by Sonia Verma giving all sides a chance to put their points across. NDTV even aired a documentary titled “Get up, Stand up” on the Kudankulam agitation which began with the atmospherics of the upbeat people’s struggle with men, women, and children playing the drums and singing songs. It also listed one by one the accidents/mishaps that had taken place from 1991 in the Kalpakkam right down to 2009 in the Kaiga plant when the dome collapsed during construction. This called the government’s bluff that accidents can never occur in India’s nuclear establishments.

“Some journalists who were trying to do their job in getting as close to the agitation site as possible were also at the receiving end of the security forces like the Times Now cameraman, Sujesh, who got beaten up by the RAF and his camera destroyed” said Nityanand Jayram, activist and writer. According to him, the biggest failure of the media in covering the Kudankulam agitation was that it did not ask enough questions on different aspects of the entire debate. “If you look at the high points, you will see that there is absolute lack of diversity. In one year they should have nibbled, chewed every single aspect of the agitation and discussed the issues threadbare. But they simply failed to do that because of their biases”, he said.

What were the reasons for such reportage? The most apparent one is probably that nuclear and defence issues have historically been “holy cows” for a largely nationalistic media in our country with notable exceptions. Also wherever there is big money or a project to which “prestige” is attributed, the media by and large tends to support it unquestioningly. Take for example, the Commonwealth Games. The media which was ra ra about the CWG was caught unawares by the scams that tarnished and threatened to bring down the entire event in the countdown to the event. It is seen as “unpatriotic and against the country’s development paradigm” to oppose such projects. For the Tamil media too this 2000 MW nuclear power generator, hyped as the first in the country, was a “prestige” issue. It was willing to dub anyone who opposed it, including the ordinary people, as traitors and terrorists. Chief Minister Jayalalitha who had first opposed the plant did a flip flop in February/March this year. The timing coincided with a huge power shortfall in the State and she made it appear that she wanted the project because the people of her State needed power. Kalam’s visit to the plant and endorsement of it and its safety features helped the hype in the media to bat for the project like the Chief Minister. “It is the idiocy of the media that they believe everything that the scientists tell them and in this case it happened to be a missile scientist who is endorsing nuclear energy–it is simply ridiculous” a former top brass in India’s scientific establishment told the Hoot requesting anonymity. “The point is that nuclear power in India accounts for only 2.5 per cent of India’s power production after all these years. After Fukushima, ordinary people are raising valid questions on the social costs of such mega projects,” he said. Like him, former Chairman of Atomic Energy Regulatory Board (AERB) Dr A Gopalakrishnan openly sided with the protesters in Kudankulam on television debates and described the AERB as a “lapdog” of the Atomic Energy Department (AED).

Social media
Amritraj Stephen, photographer from Kudankulam who has been relentlessly covering the agitation and for which he claims he has even been targeted by some of the “pro-nuke journalists”, pointed out that social network sites such as Facebook played a huge role in spreading the information about the repressive measures against the protesters. “On September 10 I stood on the protest site from the afternoon till late in the night and gave my picture to a Facebook guy. There were 3, 34,000 visitors on that site on that single day,” says Stephen.

Another group titled “Stop Kudankulam”, which also started recently, had six lakh visitors, according to him. “The government’s attempts at censoring Facebook have failed and it has been very important tool of communication for the struggling fisherpeople”, the photo journalist said. While mainstream journalists from major papers and television channels stayed away from Gound Zero, citizen journalists from Kerala and Tamil Nadu came to Idindakarai to do their reports on what can be described as one of the most robust struggles of the coastal people in India in recent years. Their work is all showcased in You Tube.

“Kudankulam has touched a chord across Tamil Nadu: there has been an amazing coming together of Dalit groups, women’s groups, Tamil nationalist groups, and this has been reflected in the social media space like never before” said general secretary, PUCL. In the absence of robust and objective reportage from mainstream media, the social media has come as a good tool for dissemination of information from Ground Zero.

Tweets also continue to spread the word about the agitation. A very popular tweet going around this week is: “As the Kudankulam rage continues, the Supreme Court has asked the Government, “While slapping the liability on the exchequer, whether that would have an impact on the nation.”

Under the Civil Liability for Nuclear Damage Act, 2010, the liability to the nuclear operator was limited to Rs.1,500 crore. But even this amount was waived. Even if this minimal liability was removed, the supplier would have no incentive to equip the reactor with safety features .So why should we pay crores to suppliers, install nuclear reactors in our country, and yet they are not liable for any accident?”

I end with a quote from a journalist and documentary filmmaker I admire, John Pilger. Pilger in his forward on the book: “Tell me no lies: investigative journalism and its triumphs writes: “Secretive powers loathe journalists who do their job: who push back screens, peer behind facades, lift rocks.

Opprobrium from on high is their badge of honour. When the BBC refused to show James Cameron’s filmed report from wartime North Vietnam, Cameron said: “They whispered that I was a dupe, but what really upset them was that I was not really their dupe.”