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Arappor Iyakkam convenor Jayaram Venkatesan has been campaigning against corruption fleshing out prima facie evidence of wrongdoing by officials and ministers. Arappor’s spurs were in the Anna Hazare movement but in the last five years has set a record of memorable campaigns that have kept corruption centerstage. Jayaram Venkatesan has spoken to inmathi.com about how cutting corruption can make a substantial difference in government expenditure and helping to bring deficits under control. Arappor Iyakkam has now launched a campaign against several serving IAS officers backed by documentary evidence.
In this period, Arappor has often dealt with media but the media has not always played along. Some report their allegations in a dry, factual way, sometimes by not using the name of the organization. A few media outlets turn a blind eye completely.
Jayaram Venkatesan spoke about mainstream news media to inmathi.com recently. There should be substantial crossover between Arappor and the media in the sense that both are committed to speaking truth to power and serve as watchdogs. But Jayaram Venkatesan finds that the news media and journalists serving in them are often too caught up in the daily grind of reporting news. Investigative journalism has taken a huge hit, he says. Few journalists actually do it, he adds.
The mainstream media has become a big business and is backed by business houses who don’t always back investigative journalism. We are seeing independent news media coming up that is doing investigative journalism. But crores of people consume news from mainstream media, so their role is essential, he says.
Jayaram Venkatesan recalls how the media supported Arappor Iyakkam’s campaign to stop relaying of roads without milling them, which led to roads becoming higher and higher. Milling of the existing, damaged road is an essential first step but it was being given short shrift by road contractors.
But he says, by and large, the media has blacked out various reports compiled by Arappor Iyakkam on corruption. Jayaram Venkatesan does qualify that by saying English print media does put out their reports backed by evidence but Tamil print and broadcast media completely black them out. He says honest journalists often complain to him that their bosses are not open to carrying stories about Arappor announcements and press conferences.
He says honest journalists often complain to him that their bosses are not open to carrying stories about Arappor announcements and press conferences.
Tamil news television is often owned by political groups, so they use Arappor reports based on whether they serve their partisan political interest. Other channels that claim to be neutral completely ignore Arappor reports, says Jayaram Venkatesan, hinting that perhaps government control of cable TV networks acts as a deterrent for these channels from being critical of government. It was suggested to Jayaram Venkatesan that perhaps people in power want to control Tamil media more because it is mass media and reaches vast numbers of people.
Jayaram Venkatesan said that investigative work in public interest is actually not hard to do for journalists. It just requires time and dedication, he said.
Jayaram Venkatesan recalled a recent Arappor report asking how the son of then AIADMK minister Vaithilingam in 2015 had allegedly acquired wealth of Rs 28 crore. There was a time lapse of nearly seven years between the time of occurrence of an alleged misdeed and the report itself. This indicated how much work needed to be put and how time consuming it can be, he said, raising the possibility that news media that is focused on daily events is simply unable to devote that kind of time and energy. He also talked about how fresh journalists come to the field keen on learning about filing RTIs and doing investigative work but over a period of time lose interest and energy.
The positive in social media was that it provided access to reach people for Arappor but it had its downsides. Exaggeration rules social media since the hunt is for views and likes. Arappor is often asked why it doesn’t hype its findings to suit social media. Jayaram Venkatesan added that evidence is required to back any finding.
He also refused to accept that people were accepting of corruption or that cynicism had set everywhere. It may have affected some journalists but people are very concerned and aware of the harm that corruption brings, he said.
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