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Saturday, March 31, 2012

Sword of saviour falls on small papers

Sword of saviour falls on small papers

Calcutta, March 30: The Mamata Banerjee government has suspended advertisements for publications published in districts and sub-divisions, a lifeline squeeze that belies the chief minister's avowed objective of helping small newspapers by banishing others from state-assisted libraries.

"….Publication of the government's 'display' advertisements in district/subdivision publications will be suspended for the time being till further orders," according to an order issued by the director, information, on March 23 to all district information and culture officers.

The state government later sought a list of such publications from the districts to "scrutinise" and decide which among them deserve advertisements.

Almost all newspapers and periodicals are small and depend on government advertisements for their survival.

Their circulation ranging between 200 and 1,000 copies, they fall into the "small" category that Mamata said she wanted to help when she defended the library services department's order to restrict their subscription to 13 newspapers.

Among the 13 are some run by Rajya Sabha MPs elected on Trinamul tickets. The Telegraph, Anandabazar Patrika, both published by the ABP Group, and Bartaman are among those kept out.

Last night, speaking to a group of TV channels, Mamata had said: "We will promote local and small newspapers. Big houses do not need our support. This is our policy."

The chief minister's willingness to stand up for the weak and the downtrodden is well documented. Yet, her government has gone against that grain by suspending advertisements to small publications — an inexplicable decision but for a curious factor.

State Congress leader Abdul Mannan, who publishes a fortnightly called Satkahan from Hooghly, said: "In the March 1 issue, which had been given an advertisement by the state government, I published an article by our PCC general secretary Krishna Debnath. Titled Mile Sur Mera Tumhara, the article compared Mamata's Ma-Maati-Manush government to Jyoti Basu's government. The reason for this was Mamata's indifference to the Park Street rape case, just the way Basu had failed to react to the rape and killing in Bantala in 1990."

In her article, Debnath had written: "Today's chief minister of the Ma-Maati-Manush government is treading Basu's path. Because we don't find anything new in this government in the last nine months. We are seeing the shadow of Jyoti Basu everywhere across Bengal after the Ma-Maati-Manush government was installed."

She was referring to Mamata's reaction to farmer suicides and crib deaths across Bengal, besides the Park Street rape case.

Mannan said that when his representative went to collect another advertisement from the district information officer for the March 16 issue, he was turned down.

He said the advertisements have been stopped to "punish" publications for airing dissent against the state government. "The idea behind scrutinising the list is to prune out those publications that have in any way said anything adverse about the government," Mannan said.

"In the scrutiny that is being undertaken by the state government, I am sure thatSatkahan would be struck off the list of those entitled to government advertisements because we have been critical of the chief minister," he added.

However, Umapada Chatterjee, the information director who issued the March 23 order, defended the decision to suspend advertisements to district publications.

"A month ago, we had received complaints from some districts that a number of newspapers and periodicals had no subscription base and were published to get the money from government advertisements. All the districts were asked to submit a list of newspapers and periodicals published. We are in the process of scrutinising the list."

Some papers might have been misusing the facility but the government order has affected all publications in the districts.

M. Akhtar Ali, who has been publishing the fortnightly Meghla Akash for the past 45 years from Cooch Behar, said: "It is important to get advertisements from the state government as it helps in meeting our expenses. The existence of several such local periodicals would be threatened if the government stops issuing us advertisements."

Sources in the information and cultural affairs department said that the list of newspapers and periodicals published from Bengal's small towns had around 470 titles.

"The state government provides financial support in the form of advertisements to the small newspapers and periodicals in the districts," a senior official said. "A rotational policy is followed in issuing advertisements to them."

A senior official in the information and cultural affairs department said: "In 2010-11, the budgetary allocation for advertisements released for district newspapers and magazines was around Rs 40 lakh. The allocation has been almost the same for the present year during which only three advertisements were issued on the Jal Dharo, Jal Bharo programme (rain water harvesting) and one each on the 150th anniversary of Rabindranath Tagore and Swami Vivekananda. The entire amount could not be spent."

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