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Asian Tribune is published by E-LANKA MEDIA(PVT)Ltd. Vol. 20 No. 113

Media battles in Andhra Pradesh take new hues

By M Rama Rao - Reporting from India

New Delhi, 02 September ( Congress leaders in Andhra Pradesh with some deep pockets are emulating the example of their colleagues in Kerala to spread the good word about their party. Unlike Ramesh Chennitala, the Kerala satrap for the Sonia Congress, who has floated a TV channel, to match the rival Marxists' direct and indirect clout in the electronic media of the state, in Andhra Pradesh, the focus is primarily limited to print media - to broaden and deepen the reach.

Two broadsheets are hitting the stands soon in addition to a monthly that has begun its started. A group of Congress Young Turks led by Congress lawmaker Undavalli Arun Kumar, who are 'battling' with Eenadu group particularly its 'Magadarsi', are the prime movers for the monthly.

There are also efforts to revive a pro-Congress daily, Uadayam, which in its hey day made the market leader, Eenadu, to miss a beat with its run away success. All with an eye on the next assembly elections in 2009, for which the countdown has begun, according to local political observers.

Proxy Wars

The sudden rush of new players will see 'an intense', 'no holds barred' 'proxy war between the Telugu Desam and the Congress, according to political and media observers.

A question that is being hotly debated is whether the launch of 'Surya' (16 editions) during the ensuing festival season, and 'Saakshi' (19 editions), four months later in January will lead to 'politicization' and 'polarization' of the Telugu media. Opinion is divided. But there is agreement that the Congress can hope to get an effective platform of its own.

'Surya' is promoted by Surya Prakash Rao, an OBC leader, who has cut his teeth in the real estate. 'Saakshi' is from the Jagati Publications which is close to the family of chief minister, Y S Rajasekhara Reddy. In fact, it is said that Saakshi is the brainchild of Reddy's son.

Biased Coverage

Presently the Congress has three Telugu dailies in its media armour- 'Vaarta', owned by a Rajya Sabha member, 'Andhra Prabha', by a member of the state assembly, and 'Andhra Bhoomi', one of the oldest dailies from 'The Deccan Chronicle' group. The Telugu Desam counts on multi-edition, 'Eenadu', owned by Ramoji Rao, who has literally shaken the local media economics over the past three decades, and 'Andhra Jyothi', a daily once edited by redoubtable V R Narla and now 'owned' by a former employee. 'Prajasakthi', the Marxist mouth piece, has a decent circulation (50,000 plus) and six editions; it is no longer a 'marginal player' patronized only by the party ideologues.

'Both Eenadu and Jyothi are biased,' according to Congress leaders, who accuse the two dailies of practicing 'negative journalism'. Chief Minister Rajasekhara Reddy, not withstanding his media friendly demeanor, has been taking pot shots at them.

Says a local journalist, "Their criticism is not limited to the editorials. It has spilled over to the news columns and has literally swamped all the pages. It is too much".

OBC Platform

The strategy of the new players is two-fold.

Firstly, shake the TDP strangle-hold (of the media with widest reach). Secondly, position as the real competitors to 'Eenadu', with an eye on the huge advertisement revenue. Nukarapu Surya Prakash  Rao - Chairman, Surya,  We  neither favour nor fear (anyone). Impartiality will be our forte.”Nukarapu Surya Prakash Rao - Chairman, Surya, We neither favour nor fear (anyone). Impartiality will be our forte.”

They are also factoring in the yawning gap between the 'leader' Eenadu (11 lakh plus) and the number two, Andhra Jyothi (four lakh plus) in the short to medium run. Not surprisingly, the new players are being targeted by the 'old hands'.

'These attacks have helped us', says Surya Prakash Rao. "I am a Congressman. I will have my sympathies (for the Congress). But unlike the competitors (read Eenadu- Jyothi), Surya will not be a partisan. We will criticize (government). We will also praise (government). We neither favour nor fear (anyone). Impartiality will be our forte".

Rao has his ambitions in place. Over a time, he likes to expand into electronic media. "We are doing the spade work", he told me. But he is not in a hurry. "My first priority is print. Once we consolidate our Surya, we will go for the TV".

Surya Prakash Rao is not new to celluloid world. He is a film and TV producer of repute in Telugu and Kannada. His plans for the Surya include simultaneous editions from Bangalore, Delhi and Mumbai.

Re-Writing Rules

According to Surya editor, Satyamurthi, the daily has notched up a paid circulation of one lakh even before it has hit the market. "We have a young core group with innovative ideas and actionable plans. Our focus is naturally youth. We are reaching out to them. Not that we are neglecting the traditional newspaper reader, who begins the day with a look at the headlines. In a way we are re-writing the rules of the game in print world", says Murthi who is in his forties.

Satyamurthi has an interesting spin on Telugu journalism. "Every ten, fifteen years, Telugu journalism heralds a new trend setter. It was the Eenadu in the seventies. Eighties belonged to Uadayam. Nineties saw Vaarta striking a new note. Now it is time for the Surya to blaze a new trial".

He has a point. He will have to contend with Patanjali, a senior journo, who is expected to head 'Saakshi'.

Patanjali doesn't subscribe to the concerns of politicization of Telugu media, like in neighbouring Tamil Nadu. "It is not new for political parties to own news papers either directly or through party leaders and sympathizers. But polarization is not possible in a free world," he says.

Another local editor, Tankasala Ashok, however, sees some inevitability in politics and media coming together. "Politicisation of media should be viewed as a corollary to the politics of the day. It is inevitable. If the clash is fierce, as some expect, it would be lead to the next stage of evolution of the media which is welcome.

Meanwhile, two new TV news channels have joined the media race in Telugu. One of them NTV has come up with a combo edition – besides news TV, it is offering a devotional music channel, Bhakti TV. At least another two channels are in the pipe-line

So will be too much of news, and too little of soaps and song sequences?. Politics is a street play in a sense with elements of drama, excitement and action thrown in as ingredients.

So battle lines are drawn in Telugu media world.

And all are not complaining. Certainly not the local journos, who suddenly find themselves in great demand since local journalism schools are unable to cope up with the spurt in the demand for hacks.

-Asian Tribune-

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