The defamation Raj is back in Tamil Nadu after a short break. It seems the AIADMK government in the state is burying alive Right to Expression and Right to Resent along with higher notions of Press Freedom. The government is wielding the defamation weapon against its imagined enemies in the journalistic fraternity. In its initial days of governanace, the Jayalalithaa government was filing defamation against The Hindu, The Times of India and CNN-IBN.
Now it is turning its might against other media institutions too. The number of defamation cases against media and political opponents by the J Jayalaithaa led AIADMK government has now reached an all time high of 110. Now, Tamil Nadu beats all other states when it comes to filing defamation cases. Latest in the slew of defamation cases filed, has been against Tamil magazine Nakeeran and web portal Rediff.com, for publishing a `speculative article’ on her `deteriorating health’ condition. As per the complaint, the article, titled ‘Chennai media knew Jayalalithaa’s health is not fine, but kept mum,’ was written with a mala fide intention to tarnish her image, and it was published without proper verification of facts.
Followed by the controversial articles which said Jayalaithaa is suffering from liver related disease and soon will be flying to US for better medical treatment, DMK chief Karunanidhi and opposition parties clamoured for an explanation on Jayalalithaa’s health status. Jayalalithaa’s long absence from the State Assembly and her cancelling of scheduled meetings and programmes are said to have stirred up the rumours.
During her previous tenure as chief minister (2002- 2006), the Jayalalithaa government filed almost 120 criminal defamation cases against the media, while in its (2006-2011) tenure filed 40 defamation cases. Although filing cases against editors and journalists is allowed as per law, Jayalalithaa governments speed by which it file cases has invited criticism from all quarters. Critics view this as the high intolerance by the government to take criticism, while the fourth estate is only doing it’s job.
Interestingly, most of these cases filed are criminal defamation cases and not civil defamation cases, which ask for damages. The purpose of such cases filed against media and political opponents who criticizes policies/decisions are simply to drag everyone to court multiple times and to scare those who criticize the government. Recently, the AIADMK government went a step ahead by filing defamation case against news anchors for reading out ‘anti-government’ news stories. Taking cue from the chief minister, cabinet ministers have also started filing defamation cases against media.