An old flame ignites the media’s insensitivity

The release of former Congress minister H. Vishwanath‘s autobiography Halli hakkiya haadu (The song of the village bird) was thwarted by supporters of S.M. Krishna in Mysore yesterday who took objection to the author resurrecting in the public consciousness a half-century-old story of the former chief minister’s soft corner for yesteryear actress, B. Saroja Devi.

The protest had been prefaced by a news report in Mid-Day, whose reporter B.V. Shiva Shankar gained access to the proofs of the book. The operative portion of the offending episode, as recounted by the tabloid on Monday morning, reads thus:

Krishna and Vishwanath were travelling in a car in 2004, when assembly and parliamentary elections were scheduled simultaneously in Karnataka. A newspaper lying on the car seat said Saroja Devi could get a Congress ticket to contest from Mandya.

“What do people think?” Krishna reportedly asked Vishwanath.

Vishwanath hemmed and hawed, but Krishna cajoled him to speak out.

Vishwanath then said: “Sir, people know what happened between you and the star when you were young. They say Krishna won’t forget his old number, and will definitely give her a ticket.”

Krishna reportedly laughed and said, “We should not forget old numbers. It is a sin.”

Vishwanath replied, “Yes, sir. I won’t forget my old numbers either.”

That seemingly innocuous admission of a long-ago romance, fondly remembered long after the ardour had dimmed, was enough for the 24-hour Kannada news channel TV9 to go all guns blazing.

Krishna Leele” read the “super” all afternoon, as anchor Gaurish Akki and reporters Lakshman Hoogar and Arvind Shetty hoogared on the “Breaking News”, and speculated wildly on the motives behind Vishwanath revealing it now, the possible impact of it on Krishna’s return to Karnataka politics, etc.

The result of the Mid-Day report and the resulting TV9 coverage, provided enough fuel for Krishna’s supporters to go on the rampage, jostling chief guest U.R. Anantha Murthy, destroying the property of the venue, and generally creating a nuisance, and eventually succeeding in the book not being released as intended.

GAGAN K. who was at the venue for two hours, from 5.30 pm to 7.30 pm, jots down his impressions and observations. Krishna and Saroja Devi have been defamed not by Vishwanath, he says, but by Mid-Day and TV9. The protestors, he argues, should be directing their ire at the media outlets, rather than the author, a point echoed by Anantha Murthy who spoke of the increasing insensitivity of the media.

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# I truly feel that S.M. Krishna has been truly defamed by TV9 and Mid-Day, not by H. Vishwanath. They have also misguided the people of the State. All of Karnataka now knows about this issue not because of Vishwanath’s book, but due to the wrong reporting of TV9.

# Without the book being released, how did the protestors come to know of its contents and how did they arrive at the venue to stage the protest? It was on the basis of the sensational, senseless, misinterpreted reporting of TV9 based on the Mid-Day report. The protestors need to protest before the offices of TV9 and Mid-Day.

# Actual defamation has been caused by Mid-Day and TV9 which have misinterpreted the contents of the book. What has been written has been taken out of context, twisted and sensationalised by use of words like “Krishna Leele“. The use of a morphed photograph of Krishna hugging Saroja Devi by Mid-Day is highly defamatory in nature though it has been mentioned below in a small font “image used for representation only”.

# TV9 is mainly responsible for the havoc. As a mass medium, TV9 needs to answer these questions first: 1) What is the source from which they got this news? 2) Did they get a copy of this book? 3) Did they go through this book? 4) What was the rationale behind sensationalising such a small issue for hours together?

# What Vishwanath has written in his book, among other issues, is based on a conversation with Krishna. If Krishna comes out and files a suit of defamation, then Vishwanath shall have to prove its veracity before the court. Otherwise, the author will be liable for defamation. In this case, Krishna has not filed a suit yet. Only Krishna or Saroja Devi have the right to claim defamation. But it is strange that Krishna’s supporters have taken matters to their own hands.

# Suchetana Swaroop, director of Sri Siddhartha Centre for Media Studies, Tumkur, who was waiting outside the venue to enter the hall, told me: “I don’t know why all this fuss. They have a right to protest. But let them protest outside the venue and allow us to release the book, read it, and discuss it. Have the protestors read a line from this book? On what basis are they protesting?”

# All the people of this country of this country have the freedom of speech and expression. but the freedom is not absolute. It comes with the rider of “reasonable restrictions”. Id est, a person may express his views, but he shall not express his views which are factually wrong. And the views shall not defame others. From yesterday’s incidents, it appears freedom speech and expression exists, but not for all.

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YouTube video: courtesy Gagan K