For a person who started out in the entertainment industry, J Jayalalithaa was acutely media shy. Except when she chose to speak, interactions with journalists were few and far between when she was in power, and even rarer out of it.
Most of the time, her channel of communication was press notes from her party office or, if government related, from the Department of Information and Public Relations.Start contrast
Her reticence in addressing the media stood out in stark contrast to her counterpart in the opposition and arch rival, DMK leader and former Chief Minister M Karunanidhi, who never missed an opportunity to interact with journalists.
Jayalalithaa’s rocky relationship with the media can be summed up by the Tamil Nadu government recently submitting to the Supreme Court a 70-page document listing defamation cases filed by it against media and opposition parties over the past five years.
In the list of 213 cases submitted last August, the media faced 55; among opposition political parties, DMK faced 85; DMDK, the ruling AIADMK’s ally at the start of the five years, had 55.
But when she came to power in 2011 her attitude was different. At her first formal interaction with mediapersons at the Secretariat, the journalists were in for a pleasant surprise.
“Let’s come to an agreement,” she had said. “I will meet you regularly if you agree not to follow me around continuously.”Little explanations
Both parties agreed. But neither stuck to the deal.
After three or four meetings, the mood seemed to change and the press conference invitations stopped. Of course, no explanations were given.
That was something Jayalalithaa was categorical about; whether it was frequent changes in the cabinet or in the bureaucracy, she insisted it was her prerogative as Chief Minister and no further explanations were needed.
Jayalalithaa maintained that she was only accountable to the people and not the media.
Journalists were always kept at a distance at public functions, even at party meetings entry was restricted to a chosen few.
But this was nothing new. Nor is the slew of defamation cases in recent years unprecedented. Even in 2001, after the AIADMK came to power, scores of defamation cases were filed against leading dailies, including The Hindu , The New Indian Express , Dinakaran and Dinamalar and against magazines India Today and Outlook .
In 2003, her government also took an aggressive shot at the media when Tamil Nadu Assembly Speaker K Kalimuthu suo motu referred to the Privileges Committee three news reports in The Hindu relating to the Assembly.
Subsequently, he also referred to an editorial on the issue that had appeared in The Hindu and translated into Tamil by the daily Murasoli to the Privileges Committee.
While the House dropped the charges relating to the news reports on the recommendation of the Chief Minister, the Committee ordered 15 days simple imprisonment for breach of privilege to five representatives of The Hindu, including N Ravi, Editor; Malini Parthasarathy, Executive Editor; and three others, as well as S Selvam, the Editor of Murasoli .
The issue was taken up to the Supreme Court. The next year, however, the Assembly dropped the privilege issue.
When she retained power in 2016 not even the customary media interaction was held.