One of the growth industries triggered by, first, the prospect of, and, now, the impending reality of a separate Telangana state, is media owned by people from the region. Suddenly, it is no longer enough that Andhra Pradesh has far more news channels than any other in the country—some 15, not counting impending and new entrants. What matters is whether the owner belongs to Andhra, or Rayalaseema, or Telangana and whose aspirations the media outlet is striving to represent.
At the end of August, Hyderabad got yet another English newspaper called Metro India. Speeches made on the occasion touched upon the most striking characteristic of the media landscape in this state. Bharatiya Janata Party leader M. Venkaiah Naidu said that if the paper wanted credibility, it should stay away from political affiliation. Chief minister N. Kiran Kumar Reddy said he understood that the earlier newspaper from this group was begun out of compulsion, but he believed this one was being launched out of passion. The reference was to Namaste Telangana, the print mouthpiece of the Telangana Rashtra Samithi (TRS), in which its leader K. Chandrasekhara Rao has a stake.
And the industrialist who part-owns Namaste Telangana and is now launching Metro India, C.L. Rajam, assured his listeners that this paper would strive to remain neutral “as much as possible”. Perhaps to that end, it is published by a company other than the one with a political imprint. A couple of years earlier, another Telangana industrialist started another newspaper and TV channel called The Hans India and HMTV, respectively. Those two have also sought to retain a neutral identity.
Andhra Pradesh’s media landscape has become such a chequerboard of affiliations that the politically aligned mediascape in neighbouring Tamil Nadu pales in comparison. With the impending division of the state any discussion on the media’s role has journalists in the state taking you through a newspaper- and channel-listing of who supports which regional formation. Match that with each channel or newspaper’s caste and political affiliation and you get a clear picture of the political economy of the media. There is the Kamma media which supports the Telugu Desam Party and a united Andhra Pradesh; Reddy media which supports the Congress and YSR Congress and the continuance of a united Andhra Pradesh; and Velama media, which includes one group that is from Andhra and pro-Andhra and another that is from Telangana and neutral.
A number of media outlets have political owners, at least in part. Even the franchise for a channel like Zee 24 Ghantalu belongs to a Congress politician. A TV channel begun earlier this year, Channel 10, has a huge public shareholding, believed to have been organized by the Communist Party of India (Marxist). Other media outlets are owned by scheduled caste leaders affiliated to both the Telugu Desam and the TRS. Even village folk are befuddled by these affiliations: a carpenter in a village in Adilabad district told me plaintively, “Overall we do not know what to believe because each person gives their own news.”
Even if you once grew up in this state and have been visiting it since, nothing prepares you for the way identities have suddenly sharpened. You are told that mostly politicians and businessmen from the Andhra region have been the media owners thus far. A newspaper like Eenadu which has been around for 30 plus years (and would now be considered an Andhra publication) is solidly entrenched all over Telangana. Every village one visited in Karimnagar and Adilabad districts for instance, subscribed to it, with only one reporting that it got a few of a copies of Namaste Telangana, which was begun in 2011. Until the recent emergence of T News and V6 as Telangana channels, the news channels in the state which were launched in a huge burst of expansion and after 2001, are all owned by “Andhras.”
Now you have the curious phenomenon of a newspaper or TV channel which is not even aspiring to cover the whole state. Namaste Telangana editor Allam Narayana says the question of trying to sell it in the other regions does not arise—it is a publication meant to give a voice to the aspiration for a Telangana state. The tagline under the masthead says “Our paper, our state.” Why did people from Telangana not invest in the media before this? He says, “Capitalists are feudal in Telangana. Establishing media is costly. They did not see value in it.”
Does the editorial line have to follow ownership? Potturi Venkateswara Rao, former chairman of the Andhra Press Academy and editor in his time of many publications, says that happens because managements now drive the editorial line. They are divided in their regional affiliations and news coverage is influenced by them. Narayana agrees. “Managements have been aggressive in deciding media policy. There are no editors. They are not prevailing.” You are saying that? You ask him. Yes, he grins.
In the sister publication Metro India, Mr. Owner has solved the problem by designating himself Mr. Editor as well.
Sevanti Ninan is a media critic, author and editor of the media watch website thehoot.org. She examines the larger issues related to the media in a fortnightly column.