The Political Economy of Tamil Television II
September 15 2007 was not yet another day for Tamil television channels and their benefactors – viewers, owners and their political sponsors. The day marked the advent of Kalaignar TV. The Tamil word Kalaignar is an honorific title conferred on Tamil Nadu Chief Minister M Karunanidhi in recognition of his literary acumen and abilities. In the literal sense, the word Kalaignar denotes the meaning ‘exponent of arts’.
Inaugurated by the Tamil Nadu Chief Minister Hon’ble Kalaignar M Karunanidhi, Kalaignar TV evokes interesting thoughts on the political economy of Tamil television. One of my early thoughts on watching Kalaignar TV on its maiden day pertained to the analogy between the vexatious times of Parasakthi (1952), the first Tamil film of the political kind, and the equally vexatious times of Kalaignar TV in 2007. The man behind both ventures, separated in the time and space of more than fifty years of socio-political milieu of Tamil Nadu, is Kalaignar M Karunanidhi. But he is only scripting a different kind of foray this time in tune with the present times and with a different kind of medium. The compulsions for him now are neither ideological nor social in contrast to the times when he made powerful political statements in Parasakthi. The present compulsions appear to be driven primarily by the politics within the family and the need for a television space and time for spreading the words and deeds of the party and himself without losing their decibels in the cacophonous campaigns of the rival party channels and Sun TV.
On the eve of the political crisis flowing from the mid-night arrest of Kalaignar M Karunanidhi on June 30,2001, Sun TV had put in a seemingly ceaseless loop of the video footage showing the shoving around of a nearly 80 year old senior politician, Kalaignar M Karunanidhi and his loud cries at the hands of police. This was a case of political propaganda managed solely by a television channel not owned by a political party, but was tacitly nurtured and promoted by the party through the logic of goodwill and family interests-centered benevolence. The above mentioned propagandistic coverage would have caused as much discomfort to the AIADMK regime as Jaya TV‘s propagandistic coverage of the attack on the Madurai office of Dinakaran, the Tamil daily owned by the Sun TV group in May 2007, allegedly by DMK men, did to DMK. The spark for this attack was allegedly provided by a opinion poll carried by Dinakaran on the topic of the likely successor of Kalaignar M Karunanidhi. The DMK leadership was not pleased with the results of the polls which showed poor ratings for one of Kalaignar M Karunanidhi’s sons and saw a ‘political mischief’ by Maran brothers.
The turn of events from then on took dramatic and swift lines of descent for the family of Marans. The turn of events since then not only took a toll of Mr Dayanidhi Maran’s position as the high profile cabinet minister in Dr Manmohan Singh’s government, but has also provided uncomfortable moments for the Sun network. The long association between the DMK and the media group was certainly on the rocks when its crew was denied the permission to cover a mega meeting attended by Ms Sonia Gandhi and Dr M Karunanidhi in Chennai in the wake of the Madurai attack.
The writing on the wall was clear for Maran brothers as well as their competitors in the business of Tamil television. Raj TV, a long time rival of Sun TV became the instant solution to the lack of a television channel like Sun TV. As days passed, rumours ran riot as regards the possibilities before the DMK to checkmate the Sun TV. They had their echo in the relative prospects of the shares of Raj TV and Sun TV in the Bombay Stock Exchange. The value of the shares of Raj TV boomed whereas the shares of Sun TV were reported heading the downhill path. The owner of Raj TV, Mr Rajendran, added a new dimension to the stories of the changing contours of Sun TV vs DMK politics when he joined DMK as a member, even as stories floated announcing a DMK sponsored television channel to teach a lesson or two to Sun TV. It was rumoured earlier that the new channel would be supported by the party and run by Raj TV. It has become clear now that the new channel Kalaignar TV is a venture supported by the party and run by the party leadership’s family.
The launch of Kalaignar TV must be read as a multi-pronged solution on the part of DMK to the problems on account of the parting of the ways of DMK and Sun TV group and the ever changing contours of political control of television in Tamil Nadu. With the singular exception of the STAR TV‘s Tamil channel, Vijay TV, every other Tamil channel aspires for a political relationship. No longer, any political party can afford to run its political business without owning and sponsoring a television channel in order to get into the hearts of the voters. Another interesting thought concerning the analogy between the times of Parasakthi and Kalaignar TV gives an indelible impression that while Parasakthi was one of its kind, before and after its times; the case of Kalaignar TV informs us in no uncertain terms that it is a different kind of an attempt in Tamil political television, but certainly not a one of its kind.
The message of the changing contours of the political control of Tamil television is that there are no permanent friends in television channels, unless you own them.