Mamata 2.0: ABP stoops to concur with Didi

BY S DHAR| IN Regional Media | 28/07/2016
The state’s leading media group has changed its tune. It is generous to Didi and reserves criticism for TMC’s party rank and file,
writes S DHAR

Pix : Image taken from The Telegraph, July 13, 2016


In her first innings Mamata Banerjee was largely portrayed as a dictator by West Bengal's ruling media group- the ABP. 

Since her return to power with a thumping victory-- despite the seemingly powerful media group going all out to launch a vitriolic attack on her—things, they-are- a-changin.

Far from its earlier daily reportage of spiraling corruption and worsening law and order under the Trinamool Congress rule, the group now is often extolling the virtues of the first lady of Bengal as a tough ruler, portraying her as “Mamata the Benevolent”.

In Bengal circles, it is widely believed that the exit of the all powerful Aveek Sarkar as editor-in-chief of Anandabazar Patrika and The Telegraph (he is now Editor Emeritus though) is an olive branch extended to “Didi”.  

"You can’t mess with Didi and escape unscathed," writes Gouri Chatterjee in Firstpost,  a former senior journalist with the ABP Group who expressed astonishment over the stepping down of Sarkar. “…newspapering is in the blood [of Sarkar] in more ways than one," she writes, not accepting the stepping down as a mere coincidence with the victory of Mamata.

The new editor of Anandabazar Patrika is  Anirban Chattopadhay while R Rajagopalan is the editor of The Telegraph

In the  weeks following her victory, Mamata Banerjee indeed improved her image. 

While critics labeling her a dictator can now call her a "benevolent” one--allowing for a degree of skepticism--the media in Bengal is not taking chances.

It is all positive press that she is commanding post victory, though to give her some good press the  stories trending now ironically are more on the crackdown of the police on extortionists who run syndicates of building material supplies under the umbrella of TMC. 

The escape route or the “road to redemption” for the media giant seems to be in projecting the chief minister as a tough administrator cracking the whip on her own merry band of wrongdoers. 

The  ABP group, including the leading Eastern India daily The Telegraph or the largest circulated Bengali daily Anandabazar Patrika, has been consistently reporting on the stories of arrests of Mamata’s own party’s syndicate operators at her behest.

While the ABP group was reporting on page one the ostensibly tough stand taken by the chief minister against the syndicate raj, the July 13 Telegraph's main story is one that started almost a series of reporting.

Headlined "Hasina tells, Didi cracks whip", the six-column front page report, is on how Mamata got her own party councilor arrested after the Bangladesh prime minister called her to help an Indian friend at the receiving end of political toughs.

This resident  of Salt Lake, Kolkata's upscale satellite township, was not allowed to carry out  repair of his own house  by the local politician who demanded Rs 12 lakh.  Interestingly, it took the prime minister of a neighbouring country to bring the misdeeds of a party worker to the notice of the chief minister.

The ABP group right after the big win of Mamata Banerjee and after her swearing-in for the second term, started showering the chief minister with praises for her firmness in curbing syndicate raj.

Anandabazar Patrika on July 2 ran a front page lead with a headline  which when translated in English from Bengali reads: "Mamata  firm to curb real estate-syndicate rule, forcible occupation".  The reportage betrays no tinge of sarcasm or the skepticism of pre-poll result coverage. 

According to a senior copy editor in The Telegraph, there was no directive as such for them to change their stand in editing stories, but they heard that the top level editorial decision was to lean to the side Mamata quite overtly in the beginning before settling down for a more neutral editorial policy.

The effort apparently is to first neutralise the bitterness of its barrage of negative coverage of the Mamata government for a long time.

"We are not told to follow any line, but then we know there have been editorial decisions to change the stand from one of Mamata bashing to highlighting the good work and then settling down for a more neutral stand," the copy editor says.

A good example is The Telegraph front page on July 22, a day after the big rally of Mamata Banerjee in the city's nerve centre at Esplanade to observe  “martyrs day”. The day- July 21- is observed every year by the Trinamool Congress with a rally to remember the 13 Congress party supporters who died in police firing in Kolkata in 1993, during a rally organized by Mamata Banerjee, then a Congress leader.

The day is observed now every year to highlight the show of strength by   the ruling party.

No ABP house media-- be it ABP Ananda the TV channel or the usually disapproving Telegraph-- highlighted anything about the ordeal of ordinary people on days like these when the city is usually held to ransom by political activists.

And  on the day of the rally, the TV channel from the group gave it extremely positive coverage, pulling out almost all stops, even covering the clean up operations after the rally.

At some point, the reportage appeared like one by a state-run media,  though later tempered with "regret" that the chief minister did not utter the world “syndicate” while urging her followers to stay honest and not get involved into any trouble.  

According to a senior reporter of the channel, the message from the top within ABP is to report neutrally the good and bad of the government and the party.

“Earlier it was a clear direction to report against the government and TMC. Now as a reporter I have more free hand. It is now a more balanced coverage of both good and bad, since  their strident anti-Mamata stand failed to destroy her electorally, instead it impacted on the channel’s TRP post the declaration of poll results,” says the senior journalist.

“We were losing credibility before our viewers and TRP was indeed going down after the predictions went wrong,” he says.

One of the recent stories in ABP was also the transformation of Kolkata as a city of lights. 

The group had all along reported against the trident street lights of Kolkata and West Bengal at large, erected in such close proximity that they not only look hideous and tacky, but also stand as a symbol of wanton wastage of electricity and money.

To add to the ugliness now the aluminium poles of these trident lights are   coiled serpentinely with a helix of blue and white fairy lights.

"I was rather shocked when I read in ABP papers stories on how the ‘City of Joy’ is now becoming a 'City of Lights' for everyone, when the group seemed all along against this cheapjack  blue and white illumination which destroys the beauty of night and anything that is aesthetic," says a reader, who is a painter and graphic designer by profession. 

However, despite all the pro-Mamata stories, it would be unfair on the group to say that it is following a Trinamool line blindly. 

The regular reportage in the group focuses on the criminal elements that thrived in the TMC regime but are now being taken to task by the police at the behest of the chief minister. 

The red carpet of positive coverage for the group for now is all about Mamata while it continues to criticize the party and its leaders at different levels for omissions and commissions symptomatic of any political party in India. 



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