Media cries foul over Mamata gag

Media cries foul over Mamata gag

In a break from regular practice, the Mamata Banerjee administration has issued a circular restricting movement of journalists inside the state secretariat, causing resentment among reporters who believe the move to be an effective gag. 

The circular, issued on Wednesday, said the movement of journalists inside Secretariat is restricted to the Press Corner, situated on the first floor of the 14-storey building and would require visitors slip to have access to other floors. 

Until now, journalists with state-issued accreditation cards were given full access to Secretariat, but this has been restricted in phases after the Trinamool government assumed office in May 2011. 

Initially, their entry to the chief minister’s office (CMO) at the Writers’ Buildings was restricted, followed by a similar curb at Nabanna, the new Secretariat in Howrah.

Right now, access of all journalists without prior appointment has been cut off to 14th floor, where Chief Minister Mamata Banerjee has her office, along with the chief secretary, home secretary and other senior bureaucrats and ministers. 

According to sources, the decision was taken since reporters have been moving around the corridors and digging up information that displeased the chief minister. 

Matters came to a head on January 2, when journalists were beaten up inside Secretariat by the police during a clash in the presence of Governor M K Narayanan and the chief minister. 

No action, however, was taken against policemen who assaulted journalists despite video evidence and the direction of the Governor to the chief secretary to initiate action.

Sources said although the notice came from the police as “Standard Operating Procedure (SOP)” for journalists, it is actually from the CMO. The SOP states that journalists would be frisked by security personnel at the entrance and would have to wait at the press corner on the first floor until given permission by “competent authority” to go to any other part of Nabanna.

While any violation of this would be considered a breach of security, senior officials could not recall such restrictions on movement of journalists at the state secretariat, even during the Left regime, when journalists were often at the receiving end of sticks from the police or party cadres. 

Rejecting the circular, Kolkata Press Club’s president Sudipta Sengupta issued a scathing statement.

He said the state’s media community viewed this as “an atrocious attempt to gag the media and make it paralytic. Indian democracy has always unequivocally rejected attempts of press censorship and there shall be no exception in this case as well. No stone will be left unturned to ensure the survival and smooth functioning of the fourth estate.” 

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