It has been eight years since the Communist Party of India (Marxist) [CPI-M] state committee approved the official party document detailing how its functionaries should ‘intervene’ in social media. This was on December 29 and 30 of 2012 to be exact.
The hapless journalists of Malayalam channels, at the receiving end of a ruthless cyber attack by the CPI(M)’s cyber activists, may not have read it. But, there would be no harm if the party insists that its cyber ‘warriors’ read and abide by the 9-page document.
The document speaks of how the Left ideology could be taken to the masses using the new media and social media. It says so: “As we use new media and the internet to propagate our ideas, we should ensure that the bounds of propriety and ethics are not crossed and compromised.”
The three journalists, victims of the above-stated social media attack, have every right to question the party on whether the party could ensure that the criticism and mudslinging would stand ethical and moral scrutiny. This is especially so because ‘character assassination’ is not a stated aim or end of the party; moreover, it is against party policy.
The wide gap between the party’s lofty idea and it operatively plays out is evident from this ‘swear’ post put up by a CPI(M)-leaning group called Cyber Commune. It reads thus: “As the CPI(M) cyber goon, I hereby swear that I would retort to and launch counter-offensives on ‘wayward media’ and those attacking the party and its leaders with fake news and false propaganda.” The statement goes on to say that he would use ‘befitting language’ in this endeavor using his personal WhatsApp-Facebook account.
Attack on journalists
The cyber-locust attack on the three journalists in question did not come up on the basis of any reportage they did. In the case of the Manorama News TV presenter, it was a slip of tongue after a very excruciating five hours of reading out the Idukki rain disaster. She was literally ‘murdered’ in the cyberspaces of the CPI(M). The man who spearheaded by the attack is one the party describes as a temporary employee of the party’s mouthpiece.
The Asianet News reporter came under attack for asking ‘uncomfortable question’ to the Chief Minister on the Thiruvananthapuram gold smuggling case. The Chief Minister was tearing into the media and the opposition when the reporter asked questions. The ‘cyber attackers’ did not spare even the scribe’s wife, also a mediaperson.
The CPI(M) leadership had to intervene and direct a course correction after a Manorama report quoted the party’s ‘guidance report’ ratified by the party state committee on June 29, 2015. The report stated that 25,095 people had left the party. The CPI(M) leadership had not denied the report or the facts stated therein. The report but let loose a major cyber offensive against the media in general and Manorama in particular. The man who was tasked with reacting to anti-CPI(M) reports in the party mouthpiece is the official ‘responder’ in the CM’s office. The CM is often faced with the question if the former is engaged in party work even while taking government pay.
It should be admitted that the CPI(M) is at the forefront of digital adoption. This became all the more advantageous as everything shifted to the digital mode post-COVID-19. The party and its functionaries have come a long way, from when it discussed the ‘approach to new media.’ The social media arm and interventions of the party are no more peripheral. It can shape, guide, and influence key political decisions. So, the CPI(M) is not a party that is unaware of the ramifications of new media. The party is also aware of the restrain it should exercise in its social media activities. But the reactions of some of its leaders look more than amateurish. Left Democratic Front (LDF) convener A Vijayaraghavan’s response to the cyber attack said it was tit-for-tat’ and any attack on the party would be dealt with in ‘equal measure.’
A recent spat between the chief editor of party mouthpiece Deshabhimani and a TV presenter led CPI(M) to take a decision to boycott a particular channels discussions and debates. The CM has always maintained, right from Lavalin times, that there is no compromise or middle path with the media. The cyber spaces are now becoming ‘war-like’ and there is adequate virtual bloodbath when the government faces crises and the media reports it. There is no sparing anyone and women too are wantonly attacked. The Chief Minister tried to justify it by saying that the Opposition was in no way behind in carrying out cyber attacks.
Media is first target
At this juncture, it would serve one well to revisit the speech made by CPI(M) general secretary Sitaram Yechury in New Delhi during a protest by Kerala Working Journalists’ Union on December 21, 2019. The protest was organized against attacks on journalists in the wake of the Citizenship Amendment Act (CAA). Yechury had stated so: “Media will be the first target of authoritarian and Fascist governments. But such actions only serve to reflect poorly on the governments.”