A new English newspaper is set to hit the stands in Hyderabad this July, but what sets the new entrant apart in the crowded Telangana media market is its high-profile owner: Chief minister K Chandrasekhar Rao.
The paper – Telangana Today – will be published by Rao’s media house, Telangana Publications Private Limited and help the CM shape public opinion. He already owns a Telugu daily, Namaste Telangana, and a television news channel, T-News.
“Apparently, KCR is not satisfied with the way existing English dailies are covering his party and government. He feels they are not giving enough positive coverage. So, he wants to have his own mouthpiece,” said Indian Journalists’ Union (IJU) secretary general Devulapalli Amar.
The opening of a new media outlet is usually cheered by local journalists as it triggers more employment and higher salaries in a highly competitive industry.
But the media fraternity is deeply worried about Telangana Today and feels the newspaper will aggravate Rao’s stranglehold on news coverage in the state.
Sources say KT Rama Rao, the CM’s and minister for information technology, is personally overseeing the content and design of the new daily.
“The focus of Telangana Today is on Hyderabad and Telangana, speaking out for the people. It is not that our paper is going to be the mouth piece of the government, we shall take the side of the people and highlighting their issues,” said Telangana Today Editor K Srinivas Reddy.
Since India’ newest state was formed in June 2014, the CM has steadily expanded his influence in the media with a mixture of patronization and intimidation. In the past two years, most newspapers and channels have cut back on negative coverage of the government, fearful of losing government advertisements and political favour.
For example, Andhra Jyothy, which has the backing of the Telugu Desam Party, initially adopted an aggressive stand against the KCR government and exposed alleged misdeeds of Telangana Rashtra Samiti (TRS) MLAs.
But in the last few months, it has fallen in line. The reason: Its news channel ABN-Andhra Jyothy was blocked for more than a year for allegedly taking an “anti-Telangana stand”.
The channel was restored after the Andhra Jyothy management patched up with the KCR family.
The case of the popular channel TV9 was similar. After being taken off the cable TV network for a few months, its management struck a deal with the government and got the channel restored. It started a separate channel “Jai Telangana” that is pro-TRS.
“It is a dangerous situation. Whoever talks against KCR or whichever media criticises his government, they are branded as anti-Telangana. The pro-KCR forces are very active on social networking sites, attacking KCR critics in a big way,” Amar said.
The top two media houses — Eenadu and Sakshi — back the TRS as they have business interests in Telangana.
Other vernacular dailies and even English newspapers from Hyderabad aren’t critical of KCR. A dozen major Telugu television channels follow suit, giving little space to opposition parties.
Experts say most media houses are owned by Andhra businessmen, who used to criticise KCR and oppose the formation of Telangana before 2014.
“After the for mation of Telangana, media houses had no option but to go soft on the TRS government, since they have to survive in Hyderabad,” said veteran journalist and former Andhra Pradesh Press Academy chairman Potturi Venkateshwara Rao.
Besides adopting coercive tactics and appeasing the media with advertisements, KCR also offered sops to media persons, such as the construction of threebed room houses and issuance of health insurance cards. “But he cannot silence the media for a long time with such tactics. Once there is disillusionment among the people against the government, the media will be forced to take their side and expose the government,” the IJU leader added.