The Politics of Tamil Television:The Changing Contours of Control
The relationship between politics and media in Tamil Nadu is no doubt an unique one with a chequered history spanning several decades. Beginning with the rise of the self-respect movement during the 1920s, political communication in Tamil Nadu has been prospering remarkably well, thanks to the clever use of the medium that defines every age. In matters of politics, the age of newspapers during the 1920s and 1930s was quickly overshadowed by the age of cinema during the 1950s. The age of cinema defined political communication until the 1970s in a remarkable manner and continues to espouse the political cause through the re-runs of MGR films whenever elections are held in Tamil Nadu.
The advent of Sun TV and later Jaya TV during the 1990s and their overt pitching of political affiliations to DMK and AIADMK respectively took political communication to new heights even as it made matters worse for the emergence of a professional television environment in Tamil Nadu.
For those who are not in the know of the media turf in Tamil Nadu, here are some basic facts of the political economy of television. During 1950s and 1960s, Tamil Nadu had the unique distinction of being the only Indian state (and probably the only democratic space in the world) having political party-sponsored films. In 2007, Tamil Nadu can claim the distinction of having political parties-sponsored television channels.
Sun TV was started in 1993 by the son of Mr ‘Murasoli’ Maran (1934-2004), Mr Kalanidhi Maran. Mr ‘Murasoli’ Maran was a nephew of Kalaignar M Karunanidhi and a former Union Cabinet Minister. ‘Murasoli’ Maran’s contribution to the political propaganda machinery of DMK can be traced to his career as a script writer for Tamil films which also doubled up as vehicles of party ideology in an implicit manner. He edited the DMK party newspaper ‘Murasoli’ and published a slew of general news magazines. He was a well endowed parliamentarian for 36 years and won raves for his performance as Union Commerce Minister at the time of the Doha round of WTO in 2001. He was also believed to be the closest among his relatives to the heart of his uncle, Kalaignar M Karunanidhi. The origin of Sun TV has its contexts equally in the political backgrounds of his father and his uncle as in the entrepreneurial acumen of ‘Murasoli’ Maran’s son, Kalanidhi Maran, the founder and CEO Sun TV. Kalanidhi Maran’s Sun TV media group controls the television landscape in south India through 20 television channels in Tamil, Malayalam, Kannada and Telugu. The group also controls nearly 70% of the cable television market in Tamil Nadu through its cable company, SCV (Sumangali Cable Vision). The announcement on August 11, 2007 by the Tamil Nadu Government floating the Tamil Nadu Government Cable Corporation as a MSO is alleged to be an an attempt to checkmate the monopoly of SCV and the apprehensions regarding the obstacles such a monopoly can pose to the Kalaignar TV. The case of Jaya TV is no different as a channel sponsored by a political party even though it is not as big as a media empire as Sun TV group. Started in August 1999, the channel has been run by the family of Ms Sasikala, the friend of former Tamil Nadu Chief Minister Selvi J Jayalalitha.
Not be outdone by the two major Dravidian parties in the games of politics Tamil television is capable of playing, PMK (Pattali Makkal Katchi or the ‘Party of the Downtrodden’) started its television channel on September 01,2006 and christened it Makkal TV (People’s TV). The channel was inaugurated and blessed by Kalaignar M Karunanidhi. True to the ideology and campaigns of the founder of the party, Dr Ramadoss, Makkal TV seeks to be different from the run of the mill Tamil television channels and eschews completely the use of English-laced Tamil words, film-based programmes and serials soaked in violence and vengeful plots. It is seeking to prove that a television channel can run its course successfully without recourse to the above. Makkal TV was the second channel after Sun TV to carry his blessings.There are reports of a few more political channels waiting in their wings. Two channels are slated for launch by two functionaries of the Congress party.