Asim Kumar Mitra
All of a sudden West Bengal experienced a spate of new media coming up with pomp and grandeur. Within a span of two to three years, only the city of Kolkata got about thirty new newspapers and channels. They have employed journalists with fabulous amount of salaries and fat amount of allowances on different heads. Two remarkable things came to light in this regard, were (1) almost without any exception, all the medias houses were owned by the chit fund proprietors and (2) barring a few all have been supporting the policies of the ruling party.
Chief Minister Mamata Banerjee has been very candid and consistent in labelling the mainstream media as anti-ruling party and vindictive. Accordings to her they have been continuously pursuing hate campaign against her party i.e. Trinamool Congress. At the outset her administration had stopped paying outstanding advertisement bills of different newspapers and electronic media. She wanted to strike a deal with media houses and for that purpose, she had even personally visited the newspaper houses and met proprietors and the editors. But they did not work the way she wanted to have it. For mainstream newspapers, they have got their own agenda to serve their readers with news and views which used to be, in most cases, anti establishment. Because that sell and for the sake of objectivity newspapers have got a duty to inform people the opposite side of the story. At the same time they have been cautiously toeing the government line as they have to run the business of the newspaper.
Mamata wanted to get rid of this game of trapeze and bluntly wanted a “friendly press”. Chit Funds were waiting in the gallery to take advantage of the situation. They had clandestinely approached the key persons of the ruling party and the deal was immediately completed, as if they were waiting for this opportunity. Almost all chit fund companies jumped into this business. They have got two broad things in their minds. One, they would enjoy the facilities of being close to government by advancing cooperation to the ruling party. And on the other hand, by supporting the policies of the government they would be in a position to give the signal to the people that they have the blessings of the government. In this way they could ward off the doubts of the people from their minds. Hence their business would run in full swing. At this juncture, they were rather happy to start new newspapers and periodicals and electronic channels.
From the start of this year Saradha Group, Tower Group and almost all other groups have started facing financial crunch. In the month of March, 2013 the Saradha Group, Tower Group and few other groups had stopped publication of newspapers and airing programmes. Before that, since January, 2013, salaries to the employees of these establishments were stopped. Employees were given promises that their salaries would be paid. But unfortunately they could not fulfil their promises. About 800 journalist and non-journalist employees of the Saradha Group and 110 journalist and non-journalist employees of Tower Group have become jobless. They were simply thrown on the street.
All these employees were on contract basis and they were not allowed to form trade unions. As they were getting fat amounts as salary they did not bother to form such to protect their trade union rights. Now they are facing the music. But trade unions like West Bengal Union of Journalists (an affiliate of NUJ (I), Indian Journalists’ Association Calcutta Journalists Club and Kolkata Press Club met in a meeting to do something for the hapless journalist and non-journalist employees. Already they held a protest meeting and a procession was taken out in support of them. An appointment was sought with the Governor, MK Narayanan to submit a memorandum to him explaining the whole situation. Fact remains that these chit fund companies not only usurped the salaries of journalists they have not deposited any money on account of Provident Fund, Gratuity, TDS that was cut from their salaries. This is nothing but criminal offence. Journalist and non-journalist employees of these groups legitimately demanding their money back from the proprietors.
In this connection one should not forget the shady character of the proprietors of mainstream newspapers and news channels. So long they did not utter or write a single word against the misdoings of the chit fund companies for the simple reason that they have been receiving lakhs of rupees on account of advertisement. While receiving those advertisements they did not pose a question about the false claims the chit fund companies were making. In fact this has been a criminal offence and by writing the words as “editor is not responsible for the opinion expressed in the advertisement” newspapers or media cannot save themselves from the criminal offence. Under these circumstances media cannot claim the role of “Caesar’s wife”.
There are “Black sheep” in every profession so is the case in the field of journalism as well. A few journalists’ name have come up in this connection who are hands in glove with those alleged chit fund criminals. But that does not mean that all journalists are of that character. It is rather an unfounded slur on the journalist community when person like chief minister Mamata Banerjee had placated them in one circle.
One is doubtful whether anything would at all happen as the history says that two decades ago in a similar case of another chit fund company “Sanchayita” , some 130 persons were arrested on different allegations. But none of them has yet been punished and the cases are still going on. Should people draw any conclusion by citing this instance?
Name of the chit fund Names of newspapers and channels
Saradha Group Bengal Post (English daily), Sakalbela (Bengali daily, it has
8 editions: Kolkata, New Delhi, Guwahati, Siliguri, Silchar, Agartala, etc.), Prabhat Barta (Hindi daily), Azad Hind
(Urdu Daily), Kalam (Bengali daily meant for Muslim area),
Channel Ten, Tara Bangla (Ch.), Tara Muzic (Ch). Paroma
Rose Valley Khabar 365 (Bengali daily),Channels 1.News Time, 2.Rupasi Bangla, 3. Dhoom Muzic.
Angels Group Abaar Jugantar (Bengali daily)
Sign Group Shaan Bangla (Bengali daily)
Chakra Group Ekdeen (Bengali daily)
Rahul Group R Plus Channel
Tower Group Swabhumi & Pratyahik Khabar (Both are Bengali dailies)