Letter to the Press Council Chair Person Justice Markandey Katju about SUN News reportage of the arrest of the supporters of the Kudankulam Struggle

My name is V. Geetha, and I live in Chennai. I am a writer, with an interest in civil rights issues. I write this note to register my shock and bewilderment at some recent developments in my state. Given your concerns about the relationship between freedom and responsibility as far as the media is concerned, I felt it important to convey some of my – and other peoples’ – misgivings over media reporting of sensitive political events.

Throughout today, March 25, SUN News, part of the SUN TV network, while reporting on three men arrested over the last few days, for supporting the anti-nuclear plant struggle at Kudankulam has alleged they are all ‘Maoists. The channel has further gone on to note that it has got wind of a ‘ naxalite plot’ that is all set to take over the anti-nuclear plant protests at Idinthakarai.

As you know, the people of the village of Idinthakarai on the south-east coast of Tamil Nadu have been protesting the establishment of a nuclear power plant at Kudankulam. The protest has been the most peaceful and principled that this state has witnessed in recent years, being led by community leaders from across several social strata, including fisher folk, day laborers, artisans, traders and teachers. To thus characterize their struggle, which is essentially one that seeks to assert their right to life and liberty, as incipiently ‘Maoist’ is mischievous, irresponsible and downright disrespectful.

To allege that the three men arrested are ‘Maoists’ is no less mischievous. One of them, Vaniarasu, belongs to a well-known dalit political party, committed to the electoral process and recognized as such by the Election Commission of India – this is the Viduthalai Siruthaigal Katchi. Another, Mukilan has been active in Tamil and left cultural circles. Satish the third person is currently a student, who was once arrested under POTA, when he was barely 20 years of age, and charged under Section 5 of the now defunct law. He has since been out on bail, and attending his court hearings as and when he is required. He has currently trying to re-build his life and make up for his lost years.

Quoting unnamed police and Q branch sources SUN News Channel has attempted to weave a grand conspiracy theory involving all these three men. The channel has been especially vicious in its reporting on Satish, given his legal history. It is as if once arraigned under a draconian law, an individual cannot but be termed ‘guilty’ of ‘acts of terror’. This flies in the face of all civilized notions of wrong and right, and the important ethical principle that some of our more outstanding judges have lived by – tempering as they have done, the measure of legal justice with the measure of compassion and understanding.

At various times today, we have been told the following by SUN News:

1. The three men who were arrested are all ‘Maoists’, and they have taken over the anti-plant struggle. In fact, just as in Nandigram, they have ‘infiltrated’ the region and the entire struggle is now gone over to their influence.

2. Of the three men arrested, it has been said, that one of them (Satish), has 12 cases pending against him at Kudangulam police station. It was also said that a case has been filed under POTA (sic) against the same man. The news channel refers to unnamed police sources to back these claims.

3. SUN News claims that it has been told by the Q branch that the anti-Kudangulam protesters have learned their ‘technique’ from the Maoists – laying road blocks by breaking parts of the road, for instance.

There are several issues here:

– the three men who have been arrested were all part of peaceful protests against the plant that has seized several parts of the state. They were arrested between March 21 and March 23, and kept in illegal detention for a while before they were produced before a Magistrate. SUN News has been flashing their photographs, alleging their ‘naxal’ involvement, thus creating a hysteria of sorts over what is happening at Kudankulam.

– when concerned citizens have called the news channel to protest the sustained telecast of these views that are completely baseless, the TV channel has shown little or no remorse or respect. Only after constant arguing have they deigned to note that Satish was once charged under POTA.

– the litany of ‘Maoists’ taking over the anti-nuclear plant struggle has been time and again refuted by the organisers of the struggle at Idinthakarai, and while SUN News channel carries these views, does not think it important to bracket the so-called police stories that it claims to have received. These continue to circulate on the channel as ‘self-evident’ truth.

We feel deeply pained at what seems on the face of it a complicit and silent pact between certain sections of the media and the police to discredit the anti-Kudangulam plant struggle. It appears that the police and the governments at the Centre and state levels are now determined to use the one weapon in their arsenal that is bound to either silence or render non-credible perfectly democratic and constitutional struggles – the charge of ‘Maoism’. That the media instead of challenging these attempts of the state to malign its own people should participate in it is deeply disturbing. Equally disturbing is the manner in which the media, at times, behaves like a juror and a court, and passes judgement, even before it is clear what the cases are all about and when the Courts of this land are yet to decide on the merits and demerits of such cases.

I do hope that the Press Council of India can take note of such developments as and when they happen and record its disquiet.

Thank you, Geetha — with Parimala Panju and 19 others.

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