CHIEF Minister Mamata Banerjee today announced to take over two channels of Saradha Group,Tara Muzik and Tara Newz,with immediate effect. The fact that Mamata and her team have been scouting for a television channel of their choice since long could be a reason behind the move. The TV channels will now become the official media channels of the Trinamool Congress-run government.
Mamata cleared Rs 26 lakh from the CMs relief fund as ex-gratia payments to the 168 employees of the channels. Each employee will get Rs 16,000 as one-off payment. The employees have not been getting salary since February.
We will enact a law to take over. There is an association there which is now controlling the activities and now the same association will take care of the affairs of the organisation, said Mamata after a meeting of the representatives of the organisation. The meeting was attended by her other Cabinet colleagues,including minister of state for law Chandrima Bhattacharya and minister for finance Amit Mitra.
The state government is already running a media house Basumati Corporation an old government enterprise that was closed down by the Left government for its non-viability.
The announcement has come as a huge relief for the employees of Tara Newz,a Bengali news channel,and Tara Muzik,a 24-hour music channel.
The chief minister promised she would stand by us and she has kept her promise. It was our collective fight. We have won the battle, said Deepankar Nag,spokesman for Tara TV.
Sudipta Sen,the chairman of Saradha Group,had on April 14 officially announced the closure of all his 18 media houses that employed over 1,000 journalists and many non-journalists.
In a mail sent to his employees,he declared the channels ‘inoperative from April 15. You please look for new jobs. I wish you all the best, he had written.
On April 15 itself,employees led by Arpita Ghosh,a close aide of Mamata,filed a complaint at Electronics Complex police station at Rajarhat,accusing Sen of forgery,cheating and non-payment of salaries. By then Sen had fled Kolkata and was nabbed from Kashmir 15 days later. He is now in police custody for cheating thousands of investors
Employees of both channels then formed a co-operative,Tara TV Employees Welfare Association,and moved the Calcutta High Court for permission to run the two media houses. The court accepted their request and on May 6 ordered setting up a committee comprising Atri Bhattacharya,principal Secretary,information and culture of the West Bengal government,Maharaja Sinha,Calcutta High Court judge (retired),and Aloke Mukherjee,an entrepreuner,to oversee the operations. Payment obligations for satellite feeds and other linkages,however,stood in the way of smooth operations.
The same committee will now oversee the operations of the channel,according to the Chief Minister.
The CMs announcement has also heightened expectations of other media houses under the Saradha Group facing closure. Government charity should be applicable to everybody. We hope the Chief Minister will understand our plight as well and take over our organization. We should not be discriminated against, said Asif Khan,head of the welfare association that runs two newspapers – Kalam (Bengali) and Azad Hind (Urdu),earlier owned by Sudipta Sen.
\However,the CPM flayed the government move. What the CM has done is illegal and immoral. If you take over something you will have to pay compensation to the owner. You will have to pay Sudipta Sen. We will oppose it, said Suryakanta Mishra,leader of the Opposition and CPM Politburo member.
OPEN AND SHUT
Media houses owned by Saradha Group that are now closed
Bengal Post (English daily)
Sakalbela (Bengali daily)
Prabhat Barta (Hindi daily)
Ekhon Samay (infotainment channel that never went on air for commercial reasons)
Media houses acquired by Saradha but now running
Tara Newz (news channel)
Tara Muzik (24-hour music channel)
TV South Asia (English news channel)
Channel 10 (news channel)
Kalam (Bengali daily)
Azad Hind (Urdu daily)