ABN Andhra Jyothy: Sworn to secrecy about underhand paid news deal

ABN Andhra Jyothy: Sworn to secrecy about underhand paid news deal

cobrapost |
May 25, 2018

"Last year, we supported your coalition in AP," says Chief Marketing Manager

E.V. Seshidhar, Chief Marketing Manager, ABN Andhra Jyothy, Hyderabad

Telugu  news TV channel, ABN Andhra Jyothy was launched by Vemuri Radhakrishna, managing director of the third largest Telugu daily Andhra Jyothy, on 15 October 2009. In hardly a decade of its coming into being, the TV news channel has come to be known more for controversies than for its news content. It hogged the limelight across the country when in December 2009 it aired a CD purportedly showing ND Tiwari, then governor of Andhra Pradesh, in compromising position with a woman. The scandal led to Tiwari demitting his gubernatorial office in disgrace. In 2015, a police inquiry was instituted against Radhakrishna and his channel under an Andhra court order to look into alleged misappropriation of Rs. 25 lakh that he had collected from the public for the surgery of conjoined twins Veena and Vani in 2012. It is alleged that the funds thus raised never reached the intended beneficiaries. The channel was banned by TSR government in Telangana for about two years, while Radhakrishna is also facing criminal cases for publishing defamatory content in Andhra Jyothy against Jagan Reddy and others. The ABN Andhra Jyothy channel founder and editor-in-chief is known for his proximity to TDP strongman and Andhra Chief Minister Chandrababu Naidu. It is believed that it was Naidu who helped him become the owner of the Tamil daily, where he began his career as a stringer, in 1999, when the paper had to shut down owing to financial crisis. Over the years, Andhra Jyothy grew from strength to strength to become a mutli-city edition paper, covering 17 cities across Andhra, Telangana, Tamil Nadu and Karnataka. Literally, a rags-to-riches story for someone who was nobody barely two decades back!

It is no surprise if Sharma found the ABN Andhra Jyothy to be agreeable to the proposition when Pushp Sharma met E.V. Seshidhar at their Hyderabad office. After telling us all options available with his group in terms of electronic, print and digital platforms for a media campaign, the chief market manager is candid enough to admit that their owner is close to TDP and it is for this reason that their channel is official broadcaster of Andhra government events. Now, we are certain that the 60 year old media brand would agree to our agenda. Listen to what Seshidhar tells us: “And he [Radhakrishna] was [a] political reporter basically. So, he is from that background. So, he has lot of connects with Congress, BJP and we are very [much] affiliated towards TDP Babu.” He goes on to reiterate: “We have very good connects with TDP … We have do [sic] lot of what do you call we have main official what do you call for A.P. government Andhra Pradesh government, we have official event telecaster rights for Andhra Pradesh govt.” Seshidhar at the outset makes it clear where the loyalties of his channel and newspaper lie.

After discussing the Hindutva agenda and how it has to be packaged by their news channel, the journalist comes to character assassination of political rivals. Coming to his favorite topic Pappu, the journalist tells Seshidhar how this has to be packaged using satire so much so that when elections are round the corner, nobody takes Pappu seriously. It will help our party immensely. So, create content on the pattern of “So Sorry”, maybe “Pappu Returns”, for instance. “Okay,” we hear him say as he goes on to tell us that their newspaper carries such political caricatures. Do you carry Telugu characters in those caricatures, asks the journalist. “Telugu character? It’s not a Telugu character. We characterize what you call on current issue, a current issue on this thing only,” informs Seshidhar. You mean, you do it a la Amul, the journalist seeks to know. Seshidhar tells us: “Yeah … yeah, that is … But we don’t have specific character for it… but we do a story board on it and we create character and we narrate it and we do it.”

You mean, the journalist now asks him, it is possible for you to create and carry caricatures like “Pappu Returns” for us. Yes, certainly. “Yeah, yeah, that is,” he hear him say. After discussing the first two phases of his campaign and finding him agreeable to carrying the agenda in his channel and newspaper, the journalist pitches for the third, aggressive, phase of his campaign. There then every political party will play this card and that card and we will play ours to polarize the poll scene. We are close not only to the TDP and Chandrababu, he informs us, but also to the BJP. The reason for this proximity, according to him, is caste which binds Venkaiah Naidu to his boss. “They hail from same community caste wise,” he reveals. When he tells us how former BJP President came to their studio a couple of times and was interviewed by none other than their boss, the journalist forbids him not to reveal who really is behind this campaign. We may be from the Sangathan but it is only Shrimad Bhagwad Gita Prachar Samiti that has to be shown as its sponsor. Hope you understand? It has to be done in a “surrogate” way. The senior journalist has changed the connotation of the word surrogacy altogether!

Knowingly well now their political affiliations and the reach and influence that Andhra Jyothy has, the journalist randomly asked him if they could influence Karnataka elections. The newspaper has a separate Bangalore edition devoted to the Telugu-speaking sections among the state population. “Yeah, yeah, basically through states our borders of our [states] geographically so it is too attached,” Seshidhar is quite candid while replying to the question. The main reason why his media house can do that is the proximity of borders of Andhra to Karnataka. Then, Karnataka has a substantial chunk of Telugu migrants, the dominant among them Reddys, among its population, which are settled in cities like Bangalore and Mangalore. If you look at this Telugu demographic distribution, according to Seshidhar, in Karnataka, you can certainly tweak the outcome of any elections there.       

Agreeing to keep the surrogate nature of the campaign intact, Seshidhar says: “We have, we have. What we do is we maintain the unbiased system and sort of stuff, so we very carry curatively [sic]. We never open up.” Swearing thus to maintain secrecy about the deal, Seshidhar goes on to reveal: “Last election, we were supported your coalition in AP and … and that’s the reason Venkaiah Naiduji … in Delhi also we take lot of helps in terms of sort of stuff …” As the interview with the chief marketing manager of Andhra Jyothy group drew to a close, the journalist while telling him they should take the deal forward asked Seshidhar to send him a proposal. Replies Seshidhar: “Sure, sure, definitely Acharyaji … Acharyaji I will just. Are you there in this week so you are travelling?”

When you boast of your closeness to political masters of the day, and their support has been key to your meteoric rise, can you say no to any malicious agenda that comes from an outfit purportedly standing for the same ideology? Obviously not!

ABN Andhra Jyothy response

We have not yet received any response from the Group to the detailed questionnaire we have sent them regarding the investigation, till 4 pm, 25th May, 2018. In case they do send in their reply, we shall update it in the next few days or weeks.

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