Telangana Chief Minister K Chandrashekar Rao has recently been criticised for his allegedly heavy-handed behaviour towards journalists and media personnel and for threatening them.
While Rao has been holding frequent press conferences since the COVID-19 pandemic broke out, most of them have ended on an unpleasant note. When questioned about the shortage of face masks and hand sanitisers at a briefing on March 21, Rao scolded journalists and questioned their values instead of answering the question.
At the same press meet, he behaved in an allegedly insulting manner to another journalist who questioned the central contribution to state-run schemes during the nationwide lockdown.
Rao also intimidated the reporter of a well-known Telugu daily newspaper who wrote about doctors facing problems due to the lack of PPE kits. The chief minister later described the report as “fake news”.
“Who told you that we don't have sufficient PPE kits? Do you know the number of how many PPE kits we have right now? Instead of building strength in doctors who are fighting against the pandemic, you are spreading fear among them. We will take strict action against them,” he had said at a press conference on April 6.
Sreenivas Reddy, a senior journalist and president of the Indian Journalists Union, condemned Rao’s behaviour.
“He can skip the questions if he does not like them. Instead of skipping or not responding to questions, he has chosen to threaten anyone questioning him, which is not acceptable in a democracy,” said Reddy, adding that journalists are now scared to ask the chief minister questions.
In September 2014, after Rao became chief minister following the bifurcation of Andhra Pradesh, he had said, "I will bury you (journalists) 10km under the ground. I will break your necks and throw them aside. If anybody crosses the limits, they will see their end."
Senior journalist Revathi Pogadadanda said a press conference called by the chief minister ends up as “a humiliation session for the media as KCR and his family control most of the media houses directly or indirectly in Telangana”.
“So journalists from a handful of independent media houses that dare to ask questions are targeted,” said Pogadadanda. “The language used towards journalists is reprehensible. The media is even scared to ask about the number of COVID-19 cases.”
The latest press conference on Monday also ended on a rough note. When a journalist questioned Rao about the Krishna river issue, the current burning topic between Andhra Pradesh and Telangana, the chief minister accused him of trying to create a clash between the two states. “It won't happen. I can understand your intention. You can’t face KCR, be careful,” he said.
The Committee to Protect Journalists (CPJ) has also expressed concern over Rao’s recent remarks against journalists. “It is a journalist’s job to ask questions, report the news, and inform the public. Journalists should not be threatened simply for doing their job. We urge him to respect press freedom,” said Aliya Iftikhar, senior researcher of the CPJ’s Asia Programme.
Journalists, who were last year banned from entering the Telangana Secretariat, had met the then Chief Secretary SK Joshi at BRKR Bhavan in October and submitted a memorandum lodging their protest. But Joshi had informed them that the decision had been taken by higher authorities and had even allegedly advised the journalists to gather information from Public Relation Officers. Later, several journalists had started silent protests.