Exposing the misogyny in Tamil Nadu’s mainstream media

A dangerous trend seems to have gripped the mainstream media in Tamil Nadu. In a shocking tale of sexual abuse, more than 200 college girls are believed to have been gang-raped, filmed and coerced into high-level prostitution in the small, well-to-do town of Pollachi. Among the 1,000 odd videos that the state police have uncovered as evidence, one video has made its way to social media. The brutal rape of a young girl is being widely shared on social media platforms to ‘expose’ the criminals. But then, regulation of content on social media has always been unimpressive, hasn’t it? This isn’t the first time we’ve seen rape or porn videos being circulated widely on the internet. But what if this video was broadcast by news channels and YouTube channels of renowned media houses and personalities?

Yes, this happened. In Tamil Nadu. While prominent news channels such as News 18 and Polimer News (You can watch these videos here and here) aired bits of the video along with the audio, Nakkeeran TV was the first to release the complete video online. The one consolation here is that the video has been blurred down to not reveal the victims. However, the audio of the victim begging the rascals to leave her alone makes up for the lack of detail in the video. Is this what journalism has come down to?

As a woman and as a citizen, I certainly don’t buy the argument that the videos had to be aired for public awareness. A balanced reporting of events so as to inform and educate people doesn’t require you to telecast rape. On the contrary, it only creates a sense of paranoia among the masses and a desire to experience the video in real time in sexual deviants. It is precisely this negative pulse of its audience that these media houses seek to scavenge upon through airing these videos. In the process, they throw the woman and her rights under the wheel without the slightest hesitation.

They don’t pause to consider the fact that the victim may have a family or a social circle that is all too aware of the events. That by telecasting these videos, they make life difficult for her by pressurizing her social group. Or that she herself may not be able to move on while being constantly hoarded by these videos. And this isn’t the first time that the mainstream media in Tamil Nadu has behaved in this manner.

Most of the mainstream media in Tamil Nadu pledge their allegiance to leftist Dravidian ideology. While each political party in Tamil Nadu may have a different founder, their ideology remains the same – anti-Brahmanism, Dalit activism, caste abolition, self-respect, rationalism, etc. Each channel serves as the mouthpiece for these political parties as they spin Dravidian narratives, openly and subliminally, in all their communications. However, a core principle of Dravidianism as envisioned by one of its leaders, Periyar, is conveniently left out altogether by several mainstream media houses in Tamil Nadu – equal rights for women and social upliftment of women.

Consider this. In 2015, the popular Tamil magazine Kumudam ran a story on how leggings are indecent and are an invitation for men to ogle. The story was published with creepshots of women wearing leggings. A journalist started a petition to make the magazine apologize for its behaviour.

Other magazines have frequently recommended in the past that women must stop using Facebook to avoid trouble. (Anyone reminded of Taliban?)

Still, the front and middle pages of some of these magazines invariably feature attractive images of actresses. As actor Vivek hilariously pointed out in the Tamil movie ‘Udaya’, the front page is reserved for the woman with a ‘homely’ smile, while the middle page ought to carry a skimpily clad woman. Actress or not, these magazines see nothing wrong in reducing a woman to her body parts. Though a lot more can be read into presentations of content of this sort, the double standards of these media houses are quite glaring.

Similarly, stories that blame the victim for rape have often featured on Tamil news channels at prime time. When Tamil Nadu had its #MeToo movement through singer Chinmayi Sripada, the behaviour of male journalists in Tamil Nadu was a case in point. During her press meet, a tearful Chinmayi was publicly pounded on all sides by male journalists who questioned her on everything from her intentions, her character, to the timing of her allegations. A senior journalist, Rangaraj Pandey, badgered her on her side of the story on a prime time interview, not showing the slightest sign of remorse or shame in doing so. Rather, he seemed boastful of being able to cast aspersions on her allegations, subtly intimidating her at one point asking, ‘How dare you retweet?’.

Only because Chinmayi had made allegations against lyricist Vairamuthu who enjoys massive support from the Dravidian political community. It didn’t matter that the National Commission For Women and the National Human Rights Commission were showing special interest in looking into the #MeToo allegations emanating from the southern film industry. Or that the media fraternity’s behaviour was completely out of line with the progressive, pro-women wave sweeping across the rest of the country.  Chinmayi ended up losing her livelihood while no one batted an eyelid.

More recently, on March 4th this year, when Mahashivaratri celebrations were at its peak at Isha Foundation, Coimbatore, the mainstream media in Tamil Nadu had nothing to report about the massive event that saw lakhs of people from all walks of life celebrating the idea of Shiva. Nothing, except a fake story of a liplock between actress Kajal Agarwal and Yogi Sadhguru Jaggi Vasudev. The fake news which was subsequently pulled down was published by none other than Tamil Samayam (TOI Tamil Nadu), NDTV Tamil and the likes.

No verification was done prior to publishing the story and no apology was issued after taking it down. In their hatred towards a popular Hindu spiritual Guru, they had no qualms about spreading falsehoods about the character of a woman. Rather, they used the woman to taint and tarnish a person they perceive as associated with their ideological ‘enemy’ clan.

Long story told short, the approach of several mainstream media houses in Tamil Nadu when it comes to women’s issues seems to be two-fold. One, to sensationalize, as in the case of Pollachi and Kajal Agarwal. Two, to take the moral high ground and treat women as chattel that ought to stick to a strict code of conduct. These media entities are neither professional, nor do they conform to the ethos laid out by their ideological forefathers, or learn positively from the national scene.

The only thing that seems to drive them is an insane desperation for audience engagement that would further the hidden agenda dictated by their political bosses. And nothing can be more disastrous for a state that is deeply entrenched in gender discrimination, agricultural crisis, climate change, unemployment and a serious crisis for strong leadership.

Will things ever change?

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