July 2, 2001
1430 IST


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True lies -- the tale of the tapes

Our Correspondent in Madras

It is video war in Tamil Nadu.

When a Crime Branch (CID) team landed up at the Oliver Road, Madras, residence of former Tamil Nadu chief minister Muthuvel Karunandhi to arrest him in connection with what is being dubbed the 'Flyover Scam', one of the first calls made from the house went out to the Sun TV newsroom.

The television channel, owned and operated by Kalanidhi, son of Union Minister Murasoli Maran, rushed a television crew to Karunanidhi's residence.

The result was evident within hours. Across the state, citizens sipping their wake-up cups of filter coffee were treated to dramatic images of the 78-year-old Dravida Munnetra Kazhagham president being pushed around and bodily carried out to the waiting police car.

Another equally gripping video sequence revolved around the physical abuse meted out to Union Minister Murasoli Maran. On video, Maran is being shown being hauled out of a car, and carted away like a sack of potatoes by the police posse. By the time the Central minister -- who, just over a month ago, was hospitalised following a serious heart complaint -- is deposited on his back on a table, his dhoti has been stripped away and he is shown wearing just a shirt and some form of underwear.

The dramatic, gripping video sequences were aired non-stop on Sun TV. The channel, utilising its enviable 92 per cent audience reach to the maximum, flashed telephone numbers that prompted people across the state to phone in and vent their grief and fury at the callous treatment meted out to the senior political leader.

While Sun TV pushed its advantage to the max -- and resisted attempts by the state police to shut down its transmission -- its rival, Jaya TV, remained muted in its response.

The channel, owned and operated by people close to Chief Minister Jayalalithaa Jayaram, contented itself with 'talking heads' stories, using its clout to line up an array of senior police officials and leaders from the ruling AIADMK to defend the pre-dawn swoop on Karunanidhi and others.

And then, on Sunday evening, 40+ hours after Sun TV got off the blocks, Jaya TV responded with a dramatic announcement that it had just procured a tape recording of the events that told a completely different tale. And then, the channel proceeded to air a video sequence that showed police officials, meek as mice, waiting in the passageway of Karunanidhi's residence, the senior leader descending from his upstairs bedroom and greeting the constabulary with smiles, the police courteously leading him towards the door, and then...

Murasoli Maran arrives. And angrily gesticulates at the police officials. Domestic help attached to the Karunanidhi household arrive on the scene. A melee ensues. Karunanidhi falls. A while later, he is shown being led by the arm to another room, and helped into a chair.

Elsewhere, Maran is shown moving his arm, in punching motions -- his target DIG (CB-CID) Muhammad Ali.

Again, Maran is shown arriving in his car before the office of the CB-CID. And when the gates remain shut, he is shown ordering his driver to drive through the gates, forcing them open and scattering the police standing guard behind it. Meanwhile, Union minister Baalu is shown arriving at the CB-CID headquarters and generally throwing his weight around, arguing with police who try to keep him out.

Jaya TV says that the tapes had been provided by the police. K Muthukaruppan, Commissioner of Police, TN -- who had on the previous day said that Sun TV was the only outfit permitted to bring videocameras into the Karunanidhi residence -- releases the tapes for the benefit of the media.

"You can clearly see that Karunanidhi was pushed in the scuffle by some unidentified person who belongs to his own household," Muthukaruppan told the media in course of the briefing.

By this morning, Sun TV was ready with its response. Repeatedly pointing out that it is using the police tape and not the one it had shot, it telecasts -- in slow motion -- shots of Karunanidhi smiling, walking towards the waiting police, suddenly freezing in place and gazing with what appears to be some apprehension towards an official in civil dress standing with the police.

With blood-red arrows indicating points of interest, the video sequence continues to run -- and shows Muhammed Ali striding towards Karunanidhi, grabbing his arm, and yanking it forcefully. Off balance, the DMK president falls and lands, sprawling, on a sofa.

Muthukaruppan's press conference, which was obviously meant as a damage control exercise, wasn't too successful in achieving that objective -- thanks largely to mediapersons who, incensed by the arrest of over 100 of their number on Saturday morning, raised some very uncomfortable questions.

'You had told us that only Sun TV's cameraman was allowed into Karunanidhi's house to videotape the arrest, so where did your tape come from?'

'Why did it take you more than 40 hours to release this tape?'

'Why have you not made a statement on the arrest of the journalists? What is the crime they have been charged with?'

Muthukaruppan stonewalled on the first two questions. And said that he did not have the details relating to the arrest of journalists, and would respond to that query at a future date.

That cut little ice with mediapersons who asked, pointedly, why the police commissioner did not have details of the arrest of over one hundred mediapersons in the capital city.

Muthukaruppan terminated the media briefing and left in a hurry.

He also left Madras with what seems to be a stalemate of sorts. There is a 'police' videotape, being aired on Jaya TV. And another one, repeatedly telecast on Sun TV. Both relate to the same incidents, yet they are completely different in the story they tell.

In the wake of the confusion, a new demand has been put forward, by the media and various political parties. To wit, that the police should immediately release the original, unedited tape so that the truth of the matter can be verified, once for all.

There has been no response to this demand, till date.

Meanwhile, you can chose between the two -- Sun, or Jaya. You can believe. Or disbelieve. Or, as an increasing section of confused citizenry are doing, you can opt to suspend disbelief, and go about your work, bandhs and other acts of man -- and woman -- permitting.

Karunanidhi's Arrest: The Complete Coverage

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