CPM bid to gag Kerala media fails

via VR Jayaraj | Thiruvananthapuram - Daily Pioneer published on September 14, 2009

The Kerala CPI(M) on Monday dropped its plan to impose police and legal controls over the Press in the face of a public outcry and objections raised by Opposition parties and the media. The CPI(M) bid to gag the Press was in the context of the discomforting in the media about the alleged relations between goons and Marxist leaders as seen in the Paul George Muthoot murder case and the flaws in the investigation into the case.

Home Minister Kodiyeri Balakrishnan, who had on Sunday said the Government would consider giving power to the police to call mediamen who brought out investigative reports on sensitive cases, reversed this statement on Monday. He said in Delhi on Monday that the Government did not want to curtail the freedom of the Press. The idea of forcing the Press reveal the sources of their information on vital cases was put forward by Kerala CPI(M) secretary Pinarayi Vijayan.

In the State Assembly, Chief Minister VS Achuthanandan said that the LDF Government would do nothing to control the Press. He said there was no situation in Kerala that called for controlling the media. Law Minister M Vijayakumar told the Assembly that it was not the policy of the LDF Government to gag the Press. He also said that the Government would do everything to safeguard the freedom of the Press.

Earlier on Monday, the Congress-led Opposition staged a walkout in the Assembly protesting against the statement by Kodiyeri that the Government would examine the possibilities of serving notice on mediamen who wrote reports on sensitive cases. Opposition leader Oommen Chandy said that the people of Kerala would not allow the Leftist Government to force the Press to keep its mouth shut.

At a Press conference in Thiruvanantahpruam on Friday, Pinarayi Vijayan had demanded that journalists should be subjected to police interrogation with regard to the reports on the Paul George Muthoot murder case. Several exposes that had come out in the media on the omissions and commissions of the CPI(M)-controlled State police had caused discomforts to the Marxist party.

Talking to newsmen in Kozhikode on Sunday, the Home Minister said that the Government would bring in some regulations, “on the line of the ones in Tamil Nadu”, to make mediamen and political leaders who raised allegations in connection with sensitive cases. However, within minutes of his statement, top officials in the Tamil Nadu Police revealed that there were no special norms to make reporters reveal their sources.

Immediately after Kodiyeri made this statement, senior politicians and mediamen, even those loyal to the CPI(M), had severely criticised the move.

Former CPI(M)-Independent MP Sebastian Paul, who was still presenting a media analysis programme on party-controlled Kairali Television channel, openly asked Left with no option but to recant his words, Kodiyeri on Monday said he had not intended to curtail the freedom of the Press. “Mediamen and political leaders, who want to help the police with the evidences they have on sensitive cases, can do that on their own. Those who think otherwise need not do so,” he explained in Delhi.

Kodiyeri’s recantation came amidst reports about the re-emergence of intense group war in the Kerala CPI(M). It was reported that the continued outbursts by Pinarayi Vijayan in connection with the Paul murder case against the media was a strategy to make the situation dangerous for the Home Minister, whose elevation to the CPI(M) Politburo in April 2008 was seen by Pinarayi as a move to create an alternative block in the Kerala party.

Unable to reject the suggestions by the party secretary, Kodiyeri had been going along with him so far, it is said. But with Achuthanandan, arch enemy of Pinarayi, taking an open stand in the Assembly that the Press could not be gagged, Kodiyeri had got the courage to go against Pinarayi’s interests.

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