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Thursday, March 29, 2012

Library nanny, give us daily good news

Library nanny, give us daily good news

Calcutta, March 28: Bengal's library department has got the approval of the chief minister to decide which newspapers its patrons should read everyday.

The department, which has already issued a list of eight newspapers the libraries associated with the government would stock, was said to be tweaking the list late tonight in the face of an uproar.

An English daily, a Nepali one and two others are being added to the original list, PTI quoted a source as saying.

An hour earlier, Trinamul MP Derek 'Brien had tweeted: "I understand that an Eng daily is in the list for public libraries which has papers of many langs incl Beng/Hindi/Urdu/ Santhali/Nepali."

'Brien referred to the English daily by its acronym but The Telegraph is withholding the name because it was unable to access the purported revised list.

The original list issued by the mass education and library services department had eight names: Bengali dailies Sangbad Pratidin, Sakalbela, Dainik Statesman, Ekdin, Khabar 365 Din, Hindi daily Sanmarg, and Urdu dailies Akhbar-e-Mashriq and Azad Hind.

This effectively means the state's largest circulated Bengali daily Anandabazar Patrikaand largest circulated English newspaper The Telegraph, both published by the ABP Group, will not be made available to readers in over 2,400 libraries in the state.Bartaman, another mass circulated Bengali daily, is also not on the list.

Abdul Karim Chowdhury, the minister of the department, emerged from an hour-long meeting with chief minister Mamata Banerjee at Writers' Buildings this afternoon and announced that the chief minister had ratified the decision.

"I had a formal discussion with her today. She heard everything and said there is a government policy and we have done everything in accordance with the policy," said Chowdhury on his way out of Writers'.

A special secretary in the library department had issued the order, on March 14, to the 2,463 government-aided libraries, 12 government libraries, seven government-sponsored libraries and the state central library, asking them not to spend public money on dailies other than the eight newspapers mentioned in the order.

"This is the first instance of such a circular. The managing boards of libraries have so far been the final authority on deciding which newspapers and periodicals to offer, on the basis of readers' demands," said an official of the department.

Although officials in the state secretariat said that a decision like this could not have been taken without the chief minister's clearance, the Writers' machinery tried hard to distance her from the order.

"The decision is the mass education and library services department's alone and the chief minister's office or the information and cultural affairs department had no role in it," said Umapada Chatterjee, director, information.

Mamata refused to take questions while leaving Writers' and said Chatterjee's had said whatever needed to be told.

As word spread that Mamata had debarred English dailies in Bengal, 'Brien tweeted that there was no such ban and that the chief minister had no role in the decision. "Circular issued by small time library services dept," the MP tweeted.

It was not clear how minister Chowdhury would react to such a description of his ministry by an MP representing his own party.

Although Chatterjee said "financial constraints" faced by the government was the trigger behind the move, the order issued by Chowdhury's department had defined a broader objective.

"It is felt that newspapers/dailies, as named in the table below, will, besides promoting language, particularly among the rural masses, significantly contribute to the development and spread of free thinking among the members," read the order.

It was made clear to the librarians that no government money will be spent on purchase of "dailies published or purported to be published" by any political party.

Among the newspapers the government has selected spread "free thinking" is Sangbad Pratidin, owned by Trinamul Rajya Sabha MP Srinjoy Bose. Its associate editor Kunal Ghosh was elected to the Rajya Sabha on Trinamul tickets earlier this month.

"This (the list) is undemocratic and unprecedented. This had no parallel even during the Emergency. It's unthinkable. One can see shades of fascism," said Surjya Kanta Mishra, leader of the Opposition.

Congress MP Adhir Chowdhury echoed Mishra. "I can't believe that the state is banning leading newspapers like The Telegraph and Anandabazar Patrika which have more circulation than all of the eight approved newspapers put together," Chowdhury said from Delhi.

The move also evoked a sharp response from civil society. "This decision has not been very intelligent or desirable. It is important for the government to respect vox populi always and not just during election time. What one reads is nobody's business," said theatre personality Rudraprasad Sengupta.

Echoing Sengupta, Kaushik Sen, another theatre personality, termed the decision "shocking and foolish".

"When a government makes these decisions, people realise they are being lead to believe certain things. It doesn't make for a good impression," said Sen.

However, Arpita Ghosh, from Mamata's culture clan, said: "All the government guest houses and libraries still keep Ganashakti and Aajkal. Those papers have not been forced out of the libraries and neither has Jaago Bangla (the Trinamul mouthpiece) been introduced. Embargoes on certain newspapers and even theatre plays have existed but unofficially."

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