CPM sees red in Murdoch’s entry into Kerala visual media

via Pioneer News Service | Kochi published on September 2, 2008

The official, neo-liberalist leadership of the Kerala unit of the CPI(M), which has vowed to bring in Rs 25,000 crore worth of investment – including foreign – in the next three years, has strongly objected to the entry of media barren Keith Rupert Murdoch’s company into Kerala with the takeover of a most popular Malayalam television channel.

CPI(M) State secretary and the strongest advocate of the neo-liberalists in the party Pinarayi Vijayan has already branded the entry of Murdoch into Kerala’s small screen space as the start of a terror era in State media. Intelligentsia in the State, however, is baffled by this fear of the Marxists for foreign capital in visual media business just when the party is showcasing Kerala before the global industrialists. As per a recent deal, the Murdoch’s company will soon be taking over the best-rated Malayalam television channel Asianet and its own total-entertainment channel Aisanet Plus.

Vijayan himself gives the reason for the Marxist fear. “This is a move to destroy the Leftist minds here,” he says. He sees the entry of News Corp capital into Kerala as part of the continuing efforts of US imperialism to weaken the Left.

“Somehow, the CPI(M) is forgetting that Murdoch’s is a transnational business network which actually originated in Australia and not in the US,” says a famous Malayalam newspaper editor.

As per a decision evolved at a recent meeting between Keith Murdoch and Asianet chairman Rajiv Chandrasekhar and managing director Madhavan in Mumbai, Murdoch would buy majority stake in the two channels apart from Kannada channel Suvarna. Sources in Asianet say that the deal has already been inked.

Asianet has yet another channel, Asianet News, dedicated to news telecast. Since regulations restrict foreign equity in news orgainsations to 26 per cent, Murdoch cannot take over Asianet News. Also, as per some company re-adjustments made by Rajiv Chandrasekhar after he took over Aisanet from former chairman Reji Menon, the news channel is a separate entity.

However, these are all in-family affairs of the Asianet Satellite Communications Ltd, which owns the channel and not at all a worry for the CPI(M). What Pinarayi Vijayan is worried about is that “the development is proof of how far Kerala has been conquered by foreign powers”.

At a function of the party’s feeder outfit NGO Union in Thiruvananthapuram, Vijayan said, “Till now we had known ‘media terrorist’ Murdoch through hearsay. Now we are going to experience (him) directly. There is a clear agenda behind this entry. There is a deliberate objective to see how far (imperialism) can distort the Leftist mind of Kerala.”

It is quite clear that the references by Vijayan to Murdoch’s takeover of Asianet were not accidental but had been discussed in the party well in advance.

When told that this was not the first time Murdoch’s presence was being felt on Indian TV scene, KEN Kunhahammad, official of Purogamana Kala Sahithya Sangham, Marxist party’s cultural outfit, said the entry of the News Corp-Star company into regional languages was different from its operations in the English and Hindi sectors. “When this happens in a regional language, it has got cultural dimensions,” he said.

A newspaper editor pooh-poohed this theory. “Perhaps the Marxist intellectual does not know that Murdoch had started his play in regional languages here much earlier. Star had taken over leading Tamil entertainment channel Vijay at least two years back. But that had not destroyed the Leftist mind of Tamil Nadu. As far as I know, CPI(M) had actually seen some organisational growth in the last two years in Tamil Nadu,” he said.

Media analysts and senior journalists like BRP Bhaskar are unable to understand the fears of the CPI(M), which was running its own television company, Malayalam Communications Ltd, the promoters of three TV channels, Kairali, People and We.

“I don’t see any direct or indirect threat to these channels from Asianet even after its takeover by Murdoch. As for the contention of destroying the Leftist Kerala mind, it is nonsense. There is something else. Something very seriously connected with the business interests of the CPI(M) is behind this fear or the pretension of it,” said a former State senior leader of the party, who gave up active politics after groupism became rampant in the CPI(M).

A young-generation journalist based in Delhi said this fear once more proved the fact that the Communists had a blinkered vision. “They can’t open their eyes fully to light in the first attempt. This had happened when the IT revolution entered Kerala and when tractors and harvest machines became popular. The hatred towards foreign capital is just another symptom of this disease. It will go,” he said.

Meanwhile, promoters of Mathrubhumi newspaper, the second-most popular daily in Kerala under MP Veerendra Kumar MP, are negotiating with Rajeev Chandrasekhar for majority stake in Asianet News. Mathrubhumi, which had been toying with the television business idea for quite some time now, had earlier made an unsuccessful attempt to takeover 24-hour news channel Indiavision, chaired by Muslim League’s MK Muneer.

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