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Jinxed freedom of press and the government of West Bengal

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Bengal has been the station for many regent newspapers of which Anandabazar Patrika is unquestionably the most prominent one. About to mark a century, ABP has always been considered as the paragon of journalistic integrity here since the period of British rule. But the one serving us the news has become a news itself today. Why so?

Anirban Chattopadhyay, former editor of the Bengali daily ABP had been summoned by the Hare Street police station on 25th May to answer charges by the government of West Bengal. The media house had received a legal notice regarding some news articles they published. On 27th May CM Mamata Banerjee addressing the journalists, accused ABP of trying to malign the government, spreading fake news regarding post Amphan situations and provoking people to start riots amidst Covid-19 disaster. Chattopadhyay said that he was called by the police in early April too but he instead produced the medical certificates stating his inability to visit public places being a senior citizen.

The whole buzz started when Ishani Dutta Ray got designated as the acting editor of the esteemed daily ABP after Chattopadhyay’s resignation on 31st June. People started assuming that these charges and legal notices might be the reason for his resignation, although the former editor and his wife said it clearly that he had been planning to take leave since a year and thus it shares no connection with the above mentioned reasons.

Taking it further, governor Jagdeep Dhankhar tweeted seeking updates from Home Secretary on the summoning of Anirban Chattopadhyay by police. He also added, “Press freedom is non negotiable. It is spine of democracy and guaranteed by Constitution” mentioning the Editors Guild of India.

Screenshot of a tweet by WB Governor Jagdeep Dhankhar commenting on Press freedom.

Soon after governor’s tweet, a political storm started with many opposition leaders questioning and accusing the CM and her government of strangling the Freedom of Press.

Is it the first time that media and media persons have been heckled in Bengal for speaking up? Absolutely not! Recently Nupur J Sharma the editor of Opindia, had to face same consequences for publishing an article that spoke about the Telinipara riots. Prasun Maitra was summoned by police for raising his voice against the incompetence of Bengal government. Last year a college student Priyanka Sharma was arrested for sharing a meme related to the CM Mamata Banerjee and there has been ‘n’ number of similar instances where commoners had to pay for questioning the government of West Bengal on social media platforms.

Right to freedom of expression has definitely been jinxed in Bengal, be it for a common man or a media person. Day by day the situation is getting worse and you can’t do anything about it but to mourn in silence while tweets like this keep mocking you.

Screenshot of a tweet by WB CM Mamata Banerjee on Press Freedom Day.

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