FactCheck: How The Media Anointed Panneerselvam As TN CM Based On A Fake Report

How could one attribute the airing of a few paragraphs typed out on a sheet of paper with no ownership on prime time television as responsible journalism?

OPS Vs Sasikala: Why Tamil Nadu Is Important For The BJP To Fish In TroubIed Waters

V K Sasikala & O Panneerselvam

The tussle for grabbing power in Tamil Nadu should have logically ended when the Governor landed back in the state. Rather his return has only worsened the crisis to an extent that even his own office has been undermined by Friday’s turn of events.

By late Friday evening, media houses were running a news report supposedly based on a ‘leak’ from the Governor’s office.

The reports claimed that the Governor Vidyasagar Rao had sent a report to the Ministry of Home Affairs in Delhi where he has clearly stated that he would not be in a position to call Sasikala to form a government and that for the time being O Panneerselvam would continue as the Chief Minister of Tamil Nadu.

Strangely the news was first released by a few Telugu news channels although the entire events were unfolding in the neighboring state’s capital.

No Tamil media even had a hint about this development till the vernacular media in Andhra Pradesh had gone to town with it.

Within a short period of time, India Today picked it up and without checking on the veracity of the report played it up as ‘big breaking news’ on their group of channels.

With the news hitting national headlines, most media houses across the country played it out and the so called leak from the Governor’s report caught on as wild fire across print, digital and television media (Read here and here).

But soon came the rebuttal. Amidst all this chaos which even sent the OPS camp into jubilation, the Governor’s office spoiled the party.

It produced a statement which clearly said that the Governor had not sent any such report to the Home Ministry and that the reports coming in sections of the media were completely untrue.

As soon as the Governor’s office made it clear that they had not sent any such official report and with the Home Ministry too coming out in the open saying that no such report had been received by them too, the media houses that played it up started their damage control measures (Read here).

India Today was quick to retract half-way calling it ‘not an official report’ but an ‘internal note’ from the Governor’s office that could become part of the draft that the Governor was preparing for submission to the President of India and the central government.

It was the same channel which had initially claimed that the issue of the new government in Tamil Nadu had been settled once and for all with OPS being reinstated as he Chief Minister, his resignation revoked by the Governor and that Sasikala would not be even called for a floor test at the state assembly.

Let us now examine what were the main highlights of the note –

Excerpt - "A peculiar situation in the case is that the resolution of the AIADMK Legislators was actually proposed by Tr. O. Panneerselvam. In the resolution given by Tmt. V.K. Sasikala it is seen that it was mooted because Thiru O. Panneerselvam informed the General Secretary of the AIADMK, Tmt VK Sasikala, of his resignation having been submitted to the Governor. It is also noted that the Thiru O Panneerselvam has proposed the resolution and also signed the same. Now, Thiru O Panneerselvam has stated that he was constrained, forced and coerced to sign the resignation letter under duress and therefore requested to rescind any action taken thereon."

"The current situation in Tamil Nadu presents a unique set of Constitutional issues with no precedent of this kind. Here is a person who stakes claim to form government based on the resolution passed at a meeting of the Party Legislators. But she is not a legislator in the Assembly. Hence, it is not a straight case under Article 164(1) but has to be considered under Article 164(1) read with 164(4)."

The note then goes on to talk about the Disproportionate Assets case pending against Sasikala in the Supreme Court and says that it does bring in a situation of doubt whether Sasikala would be able to contest and win elections in the next six months. Hence there is a doubt that she would be able to provide a stable government.

The note ends by saying, “Under these circumstances the Governor is bound by the constitution to wait for a few days so that a clear picture emerges enabling him to discharge his duties in accordance with the letter and spirit of the Constitution.’’

Nowhere in the note it is said that Sasikala will no more be called to prove her majority or that OPS’s resignation has been revoked and that he has been reinstated as the Chief Minister.

These we now know were fictitious claims of the news anchor in the studio rather than those which had any place in the ‘now so called’ draft note of the Governor.

How news media ignored the red flags in the fake note

To start off, the so called note that was circulated lacks ownership of any kind. It neither has a signatory, nor is it on an official letter head with a date.

How could one attribute the airing of a few paragraphs typed out on a sheet of paper with no ownership on prime time television as responsible journalism?

Even if one were to argue that it was an internal note that had been leaked out by a reliable source, which is usually the way big stories are broken and which is an accepted norm in the industry, how do you explain the flashing of such a piece of paper over television screens and thereby expose your source?

Why the Governor’s office issued such a strong denial

Many journalists feel that perhaps the note as such was really a part of the draft that the Governor was preparing to send to the Central government and his Hyderabad office had leaked it out to the media with vested interests.

The speculation comes from the fact that Vidyasagar Rao hails from Hyderabad and that it was the Telugu media that managed to get hold of it first. But even those who leaked it would not have thought the note itself would be flashed so soon across television screens.

This sudden turn of events leading to the media irresponsibly showing the piece of paper had resulted in exposing the Governor’s office and putting the entire process in jeopardy.

So the Governor probably had no option but to wash his hands off the note, whereas if the media had stuck to just reporting on it without flashing the note, the Governor would not have gone on a denial mode.

The note had certainly swung the momentum OPS’s way at least for an hour till the denial came from the Raj Bhavan. Many feel that perhaps had the denial not come, MLAs would have started coming back to OPS fearing that Sasikala’s game was up.

By jumping the gun and pushing the governor to deny the note, the media has only saved the day for Sasikala, even though that may have been unintended.

On Monday the Supreme Court is expected to pass the judgment on the Disproportionate Assets case against Sasikala. If it upholds the acquittal, there will be a lot of egg on the face of not just the governor but also the media house who had ruled her out completely on Friday. If it goes against her, OPS will certainly have the last laugh and the Governor can heave a huge sign of relief.

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