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Dr Sumanth Raman — dentist, social media influencer and TV debate veteran — says much of the established news media in Tamil Nadu is a “propaganda wing” of the DMK just as the media in New Delhi, especially television channels, function as the propaganda wing of the BJP there. “The media in TN is the reverse image of the media in New Delhi,” he said.

Talking to as part of “Can we trust news media?” series, Sumanth Raman said this responding to a query about why the media in Tamil Nadu largely stayed away from the G Square story. He said even in the case of custodial deaths, it is nobody’s case that the DMK government or chief minister M K Stalin were personally responsible. But the deaths were not highlighted in Tamil Nadu media because that would be an embarrassment for the DMK government. “In Sathankulam, so many debates, almost every day, were happening on channels. Public pressure created through the media forced the government to act. In recent days, some five-six lockup deaths have happened. How many channels have discussed this? They only talk about EPS-OPS,” he said. “Anything that embarrasses the Union government cannot be discussed in Delhi. Anything that embarrasses the state government cannot be discussed here,” he said.

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Sumanth Raman also said BJP state Annamalai’s press conference containing allegations against the state government were not taken seriously and discussed. “Why was it not debated? DMK men could have sat on debates and rebut and rubbish the allegations. Tender had not yet been awarded but why was Annamalai raking them up, they could have asked.”

The main reason for the AIADMK government to lose face was the media coverage, he said. This year 11 students committed suicide. Anita’s suicide over NEET was really unfortunate. “But how is the death of 11 students any less serious? Suicide is a failure of society and we should have discussed it,” he said.

The Tweet, FB post should not create a problem in society. This is the bottomline.

Like other media observers, Sumanth Raman also talked about the business and political affiliations of media owners who control news media that in and of itself may not be profitable. Mainstream media requires much investment. “Mukesh Ambani has no need for News 18. The loss there may not even reach his ears. It is so insignificant. But he gets much power and influence by owning a TV channel,” he said.

In social media the cost of entry is very less. “Anyone with a mobile phone and cord can be a journalist. And this is a good thing. But as anything that sees phenomenal growth, there is a good and bad,” he said.

Sumanth Raman was combative when told that social media has no need for fact checking and it thrives on rumours. It creates echo chambers and objectivity is not a requirement. He countered this saying today even the news that is put out by established organizations needs fact checking. Sumanth Raman gave the example of election results coverage by television channels. The programme starts at 8am but no leads are available until 9am. Recognized, well established channels, cook up leads until that time and put it up for almost an hour because if the channel loses the viewer in the first half hour, he or she doesn’t come back. By 9:30 am they start correcting the figures, he added. “Journalists are now addicted to being the first to put out a story,” he said.

He said journalists have personal handles on social media. They also have a political view. When they express it, people ask how their news writings will be objective, he wondered.

But he does say that people should be responsible on social media. “The Tweet, FB post should not create a problem in society. This is the bottomline. We get a WhatsApp forward that agrees to my ideology, I put it out without fact checking and so on. This creates a problem. A communal incident happens. Without fact checking, we forward and post things. This could create chaos,” he said.

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