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Four Days Of News Paper Blackout In West Bengal

By Ranjit Sur

29 October, 2012

An unthinkable and unprecedented thing happened in West Bengal. That too without much noise. Four days of news paper blackout. Not a single newspaper was published from 22nd October to 25th October throughout West Bengal- during Durga Puja days.Eariler some newspaper have been closed for one day at Dussera only. That too not all newspapers.

Publicly it was announced this time that due to distributing industry’s- distributors-vendors and hawkers unwillingness to work during the puja days is the reason of non-publication of all the news papers. They were to enjoy puja holidays with their families just like other Bengalees. But surprising aspect of the whole episode is that newspaper Barons of Bengal also swallowed it silently. All of them accepted the distributing industry’s unethical, nonsense and never in history proposal without any protest. As if it was a joint move by the publishers and distributors.

What about the Government ? Surprise ! Surprise! The super active Chief Minister of West Bengal and her Ministers were conspicuously silent- none of them uttered a single word over this issue. So it is clear that they had not only supported this blackout but they had organized it from behind. Ruling TMC have several MPs from newspaper industry and has serious clout over vernacular news media. But why the publishers accepted it ? The Chit Fund controlled newspapers donot have the guts to disobey Government wish. But the proffessionally managed big houses also surrendered.

There is a rumour that inter-house rivalry also played a role in this blackout and played as a willing partner in the crime against readers. Except The Statesman , none of the news paper published any criticism of the distributors and vendors act or Government’s tacit support for this unethical act. None of them bothered to think of readers’ right to information. It is a fact that no mechanism is evolved to gauge readers’ opinion or consult the readers- the ultimate consumers of the industry, for whom, atleast they say, the news paper is published. Even they, the publishers, expressed not even a word of regret to their readers for failure to supply the paper, not even to their subscribers who paid in advance . So there is reasons to believe that the Publisher, distributors and the Government-ruling party collectively forced this news blackout for four days with ulterior motive behind. Even the opposition parties, the Congress and the Lefts, also surprisingly kept mum on the whole issue. The vote politics, chance of annoying the thousands of newspaper vendors and hawkers, who are only a voter to them, probably kept them silent.

The CPI and the CPM also kept their daily publications suspended for these four days. The Government action is understandable. To them , world will be happier if there is no news paper. But parliamentary opposition in India is newspaper fed. So their silence and inactivity is suicidal- perhaps they moved for temporary gain. Its a fact that they lost control over the industry in all sense of the term yet they fail to do their duty as opposition and saviour of democracy.

The loss is of readers. Its really a punishment for an educated person to stay without news paper – that too four days at a stretch. Their fundamental and democratic right is denied. It is decisively proved that the Television and Internet is no match for news paper- particularly vernacular news paper. Moreover, this four days’ blackout of news paper offcourse is a threat to freedom of Press. Government and ruling party perhaps made the newspaper industry understand how far they can go to teach them a lesson if they not fall in line to obey them. The newspaper industry hope learnt their own lesson and will see this is not repeated. Readers are not ready to accept this flexing of muscles- who ever it might be, the publishers , the Government or the distributors. In this age of information this black out is simply not acceptle and should be protested by all and sundry. The sooner the better.

[ The Writer is a Secretariat member of the ASSOCIATION FOR PROTECTION OF DEMOCRATIC RIGHTS(APDR) . But the opinion expressed here is his personal].



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