Why this licence to Mamata?

BY RANJIT SUR| IN Regional Media | 20/05/2012
PCI Chairman Justice Katju sees a"concerted move" from Delhi to Kolkata behind the media criticism against the West Bengal Chief Minister.
RANJIT SUR wonders if a humble lifestyle insulates her from criticism of her questionable deeds.
It is not fair to criticise her (Ms Mamata Banerjee). They (the media) should see her outstanding quality and not defects”: Honb’le Justice Markandey Katju, Chairman, Press Council of India, on May 12 in Kolkata.
“The objects of the council shall be to preserve the freedom of the Press………. To keep under review any development likely to restrict the supply and dissemination of news of public interest and importance”:  The Act on Press Council of India.
With the induction of Justice Markandey Katju as Chairman of the Press Council of India, suddenly the council has become a focus of attention. He is trying his best to bring back the institution to its due position. On May 12 he visited Kolkata and talked to West Bengal Chief Minister Mamata Banerjee on journalists’ complaints of partisan behaviour in cancellation and issuance of government accreditation cards. After coming out of the Chief Minister’s chamber, he showered praises on the Chief Minster for her integrity and humble life. Justice Katju has every right to do so, but the next thing he did has raised many eyebrows.
He strongly criticised the media for finding fault with such a “wonderful” Chief Minister and termed it a “concerted move” from Delhi to Kolkata. He gave the sermon quoted in the beginning of the write-up and argued: “Her integrity is beyond doubt. She is from a very ordinary family and living a very simple life. There is no scam against her….” Surprised by his statements, concerned citizens have wondered if Justice Katju has not crossed the limits governing his responsibility. Can a Press Council Chairman advise the media not to criticise a Chief Minister for her questionable deeds just because she leads a humble life?
But then, why has been a small but influential section of the media criticising Mamata Banerjee’s public action? The recent media-related issues help us understand the debate.
The Government of West Bengal announced a list of newspapers to be bought by State-funded libraries. All the newspapers included were pro-TMC and pro-government. Popular newspapers were banned in libraries because of their criticism of various government policies. Mamata Banerjee also developed the practice of giving long and live interviews to three pro-government TV channels simultaneously from the Writers Building, the headquarters of the government, and leaving out the rest of the media. On several occasions, she has publicly advised people not to read newspapers or not to watch television channels critical of her government. Many a time she has threatened, teased, and taunted the journalists who belonged to organisations that were not favourably disposed to her. Some journalists were assaulted by her supporters in Jadavpur and Burdwan. But her administration was passive and took no steps to punish the culprits.
The case of arresting a professor along with a retired engineer for sending cartoons through e-mails, and the Chief Minister’s public statement supporting the act is are well known. It is reported in a section of the press that on her government’s intervention, the Facebook authority has blocked three accounts for havin posted cartoons criticising Mamata Banerjee. Her government has also blocked SIM cards of an alternative media initiative, Dadhichi, which is engaged in disseminating information of public interest.
All this happened in one year of Mamata Banerjee’s rule, and yet the Chairman of the Press Council of India advises the media not to criticise her because she leads a humble life and “has no account in a foreign bank”.
The late Siddhartha Sankar Ray was among the most criticised Chief Minisiters of West Bengal. He was one of those instrumental in imposing the internal Emergency in 1975 when the Press Council was abolished. Siddhartha Babu imposed press censorship and enforced it meticulously. Several journalists were jailed during his term for criticising his government’s policies. But no one ever charged him with corruption.
Justice Katju will agree that a corruption-free public life or a humble personal life cannot serve as a licence to a politician to run roughshod over the media.
(The author is a Kolkata-based rights activist and contributes articles to newspapers and websites in Bengali and English.)
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