Tamil Nadu

Too Many Things Happening In Tamil Nadu; State Media Conspicuously Silent On All

K Balakumar

May 06, 2024, 08:22 PM | Updated 08:22 PM IST

  • Savukku Shankar arrest, caste clash near Salem, Dalits being unhappy with Dravidian politics—none figure among the major talking points.
  • In the early hours of last Saturday, the controversy-ridden Savukku Shankar was arrested by Tamil Nadu police in Theni.

    For a man who has emerged to be the most vociferous critic on his YouTube channel and social media handles of the ruling party in the State and especially of the Chief Minister's family, Shankar's arrest should have been the biggest story in the media. 

    Following his arrest, which was for making derogatory remarks about women police personnel, the police vehicle carrying him met with an accident and he reportedly sustained injuries. It all seemed a bit intriguing. It had all the elements that the media in general look for in news stories to amp up the sensationalism.

    But what has happened in the two days since his arrest is, however, quite telling. Save for the cursory reporting of his arrest and of the accident, there has been nothing in the newspapers or television or on news sites. The news reports have also fought shy of mentioning the irrefutable fact that Shankar in the last few months had become the most strident attacker of the ruling party in the State. 

    The breathless discussions, wall-to-wall coverage, and in-depth reportage are all noticeably absent when a person who has been targeting the ruling dispensation is detained on charges that don't warrant a formal arrest. The fact that he is also reported injured in a questionable accident while in police custody adds to the absence of media attention. The issue reeks of vendetta politics. But no such mention in the mainstream media.

    The Savukku Shankar story

    Also, everyone is mentioning him as a 'YouTuber', 'blogger' and 'whistleblower'. To be sure, he has never been a journalist in the true sense of the word. But the same media, a decade back when he was taking on the AIADMK government and others, was happy to lend him the tag 'journalist'. The Chennai Union of Journalists in fact issued  a press release condemning the banning of his web site Savukku and his potential arrest in a case involving a woman advocate of Madras High Court. 

    The Journalist Union and another body filled with usual Left-leaning journos described the action against Shankar as a threat to freedom of expression. Also, not long ago, Shankar had been part of a protest carried out by journos under the aegis of Chennai Press Club against the police against another instance of police overreach. 

    But in the last few years it is almost as if a toolkit has been sent out to refer to him solely as a YouTuber and dilute his assumed importance.

    Savukku Shankar's ways were always questionable, ever since he hit the media headlines in 2008 when a leaked recording of the conversations involving top officials of the then DMK government trying to link former Chief Minister Jayalalithaa in a corruption scam. The leak was traced to Shankar, who was a clerk in the Directorate of Vigilance and Anti Corruption (DVAC), and his life has not been the same since then.

    He was suspended (and much later terminated from service), but he has been going around with the halo of a victim and has taken on the avatar of a whistleblower, even though he has not been in service for more than 17 years. 

    His style on his news channel or social media platforms do not adhere to the standard procedures of acceptable journalism. There are usually plenty of unsubstantial allegations, some of them stick or proved to be true later. But some others remain at the level of charges only. He has also been accused of using his media clout to threaten or even blackmail chosen targets (political or otherwise).

    How Savukku Shankar pitchforked himself into media main stage  

    Politically, he has been an equal-opportunity-offender, in the sense he has taken aim at all the main parties. With the BJP, he has been consistent in his criticism. But with both the main Dravidian parties, the DMK and the AIADMK, his record has been blow hot and blow cold kind. However, in recent times, as we said earlier, he has been going all guns blazing against the DMK and its top leaders.

    With the mainstream media not willing to question the ruling party in the State, Savukku Shankar, in a twist of fate, ended up as the sole voice against the venality and highhandedness in the corridors of power in the State. The way he relentlessly took up the rising graph of ganja and drugs in the State had brought extra focus on him as his allegations were direct.

    There have been many cases slapped against him in the past, and he also underwent a jail sentence in a judicial contempt case. In November 2022, the Supreme Court suspended Shankar’s six-month prison sentence in a contempt of court issue (he had made some typical abrasive comment on the judiciary on his YouTube channel). 

    Anyway, in the last month or so, it was clear that the authorities in the State were moving in for the kill. In the days preceding his latest arrest, a couple of staffers in his organisation were picked up by the police on charges that are patently unlikely to stand legal scrutiny. The nominated Editor of his media outlet also put in his papers suggesting that things were moving against him at a fast clip.

    And then the typical arrest --- inevitably in the early hours of a Saturday when courts don't function --- happened. It is here the mainstream media's relative reticence suggests a complicity.

    To be sure, Shankar had antagonised many media personnel too, and some of them were thirsting for a revenge moment. But the issue is not about him. It is about the State government using all its force to pin down its arch critic. It reeks of fascism, a term which is otherwise frequently bandied about in the popular discourse.  

    The practiced quietude of the media in Tamil Nadu is jarring, not just in the Savukku Shankar case. 

    Last week itself, director Pa Ranjith, who has emerged as a powerful voice for the Dalits, spoke about how the Dravidian forces have let them down. Importantly, he also threw up the idea that the Dalits in the State may be better off by going alone politically. He made it merely as a suggestion, but in itself it is a political talking point. Except that in the newsrooms in the State it wasn't.

    Save for a report in this publication, no article or discussion has been seen or heard on what can potentially be a far-reaching political turn of events.

    As it happens, there has been a caste clash near Salem as the (attempt to) entry by Dalits at a local temple has triggered the anger of upper caste folks. (The reference in Tamil Nadu media is mostly the anodyne 'upper caste people' and the actual caste of the perpetrators are seldom spelt out). Again, there is very little coverage of these caste clashes.

    Why is the media silent on such serious matters?

    To contrast, even smaller events were blown out of proportion when the Edappadi regime was in place a few years back. The so-called liberal sections of the media in the State, which is also of course Leftist, don't enjoy much credibility. But what little was remaining is now going down the drain.

    The irony is when established media relinquishes its legitimate role then it only leaves the field open for dubious YouTubers and other sundry shady characters to take the centre-stage. 

    As you can see, it all seems like a Nolanesque loop.    

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