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Mamata versus the media

Before she came to power in May 2011, Mamata Banerjee had promised that she would restore the press corner in the VIP corridor of Writers’ Buildings that had been removed by Buddhadeb Bhattacharjee in 1993 when he was minister for information and culture. She did not do so, but she did renovate the existing one, […]


January 31, 2014 3:17:32 am

Before she came to power in May 2011, Mamata Banerjee had promised that she would restore the press corner in the VIP corridor of Writers’ Buildings that had been removed by Buddhadeb Bhattacharjee in 1993 when he was minister for information and culture. She did not do so, but she did renovate the existing one, providing mediapersons new fax machines, telephone lines and TV sets.

But two-and-a-half years down the line, with her government facing increasing heat, that bonhomie with the media has ended. Earlier this month, the CM banned the movement of media in Nabanna, the state government’s new secretariat.

While the 14-storey building houses all the important departments of the state, including the Chief Minister’s Office, Home, Finance, Minority and Madrasa Affairs, journalists are supposed to stay only in the press corner on the first floor, unless they have permission to go up. Any movement upstairs without this can invite provisions of the Official Secrecy Act, 1923.

In effect, it means that the media has been left at the mercy of official briefings by Mamata or her ministers and officials. Given what the order conveys, especially about Mamata’s mind, permission to visit other floors has been hard coming.

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What seemed to have been the provocation for the CM’s order was a January 2 incident at Nabanna, when Governor M K Narayanan was releasing the government’s administrative calendar at the secretariat. As some photojournalists tried to make their way in for a photo session, there was a scuffle and mediapersons alleged that they were roughed up. Later, some of them lodged a verbal complaint with the governor as he was leaving with Mamata. Narayanan asked the chief secretary to look into the matter.

The Nabanna directive is of a piece with Mamata’s earlier order to state libraries that get government grants to keep a selective few newspapers chosen by her. The Trinamool Congress government is also known to pick and choose the release of government advertisements to publications.

Perhaps Mamata can take a cue from her arch enemies, the Marxists. “They knew how to ensure the release of only the news that they wanted published. But the movement of journalists was never restricted,” notes an observer.

Sabyasachi is a special correspondent based in Kolkata.

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