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Friday, March 30, 2012

Minister’s favourite, library’s envy - Bengal govt revises list of ‘small’ papers

http://www.telegraphindia.com/1120330/jsp/frontpage/story_15313180.jsp#.T3XJbmFa7rk

Minister's favourite, library's envy

- Bengal govt revises list of 'small' papers

Raiganj, March 29: No one can accuse the Bengal government of mixing the personal with the professional — even when it comes to reading habits.

"Believe me, Anandabazar PatrikaThe Telegraph and Bartaman are among my favourite newspapers," state mass education and library services minister Abdul Karim Chowdhury said today.

Newspapers should be wary of unalloyed praise from those in power but Chowdhury's statement stands out because of a curious detail that testifies to the dispassionate manner in which the Bengal government takes decisions.

The minister's three favourite newspapers — Anandabazar Patrika, The Telegraph (both published by the ABP Group) and Bartaman — have been barred from libraries enjoying the benefits of taxpayers' money in Bengal.

Only 13 newspapers — the number has been raised overnight from the original eight after an uproar — will be bought by libraries associated with the state government. It is a matter of pure coincidence that some of the handpicked papers are tied to Rajya Sabha MPs who were elected on Trinamul Congress tickets.

The original notification listed the spread of "free thinking" and prevention of government expenditure on "dailies published or purported to be published" by any political party as the noble objectives behind the list.

However, chief minister Mamata Banerjee as well as minister Abdul Karim added another reason today. "This is our policy. We will promote local and small newspapers," Mamata said. The minister said the policy is aimed at promoting newspapers "that have either been launched recently or have low circulation".

Not all newspapers on the list would like to be characterised as either "small" or "low circulation".

Another instance of high standards in public life was also set by the government: the papers that library users have been denied are read by the minister at his home after paying for them with his own money.

Minister Abdul Karim said: "I subscribe to them (the three papers) at home. I am in Calcutta now and I was very moved by the reports in The Telegraph for the past two days on the kidnapping and murder of a baby boy in my neighbouring constituency of Goalpokhar. The Telegraph has been covering this incident and I am keenly following the story."

The minister was referring to the murder of 18-month-old Bikram Roy, the toddler who was abducted and killed because his family refused to withdraw rape charges against a group. Shocking details of official apathy have been emerging each day but the administration so far has not taken any punitive action.

The minister said he had "nothing against" the publications that have been banned from state libraries.

"What papers I read is my personal matter. I read these papers for the manner in which they present the news and their unbiased reporting," Abdul Karim said.

"Whereas, my order on the list of newspapers that state libraries would subscribe to is meant purely to promote newspapers that have either been launched recently or have low circulation."

Asked about the reference in the notification to papers published by political parties, Abdul Karim said: "Please don't get me wrong. There has been some confusion in interpreting the government order. I did not want to indicate that papers like The Telegraph, Anandabazar Patrika and Bartaman are politically motivated. My order does not refer to these newspapers. It refers specifically to papers brought out by political parties like the CPM's Ganashakti, CPI's Kalantar and the Trinamul Congress's Jago Bangla."

Abdul Karim said his decision would not "hurt" the interests of big newspaper houses. "Even if our libraries do not purchase the top circulated dailies, it would have no effect on the circulation or their popularity. After all, we purchase just a few thousand copies."

The minister said the "cost factor" also played a role. "Recently I had noticed that more newspapers, which are not widely circulated, could be purchased at the cost of papers like Anandabazar Patrika, The Telegraph and Bartaman."

Abdul Karim said that he had submitted a proposal on issuing such an order to chief minister Mamata Banerjee recently. "After she gave the green signal, I issued the order," he said.

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