Why is National Media Biased Against Bengal?
West Bengal government seems to running from one controversy into another. After being at the center of storm over alleged censorship an fascism by West Bengal Chief Minister (allegations which i refuted in my earlier blogs here and here), the state government has earned the ire of National Media for plans to start own newspaper and news channel. It amuses me how media houses owned by corporate India cries foul at the prospect of “biased news”.
This demand is nothing new and not unforeseen in India. Left Front government under the leadership of Buddhadeb Bhattacharya also harboured similar plans, but their plan had to be shelved due to no clearence from then Union I&B Minister Arun Jaitley. CPM tied up with a private news channel (Zee News) to start their own news channel in Bangla. Political parties in Tamil Nadu have a channel to their credit. Move over parties, Doordarshan is the official mouthpiece of the Government of India. What baffles me is that Mamata Di wants to start a new channel when DD7 is already at her service. And on a lighter note, a new channel and newspaper would mean more employment 😉
The issue is not as simple as it appears. To understand the gravity of this matter, we need to delve deeper into the issue. Ever since the change of regime at Writers’ Building, the interest of National Media has shot up. When the Left Front was in power, important stories like carnage at Netai were blissfully given a miss by these channels, while they rake up most trifle non issues now & start misguided controversies (the Marx episode is the best example for the same). Even CPM was not as outraged as were NDTV and Star Ananda over the syllabus reforms.
Selective reporting is nothing new. A journalist friend of mine had once jokingly told me most media houses derive revenue not for publishing stories but for hushing them up. Important landmark achievements of the West Bengal government completely forgotten by media, and blames pinned on the CM for actions, responsibility for which have to be shared by the Left regime – this summarises the news reporting on Bengal in the English media (and a section of Bengali media). Is it part of the PR exercise by THE party as a preparation for upcoming Panchayat elections, one wonders.
I still remember, when Tatas went to court against WB govt’s Singur Act, Times Now ran headlines “Huge setback for Mamata, Tata’s take WB govt to court”. When the Calcutta HC ruled in favour of the govt, Times Now only bothered to run a ticker for 5 minutes “Tatas lose battle, but take war to Supreme Court”. Objective journalism?
Barely two months into power, Headlines Today did an “Exclusive Report” on the conditions of hospitals in West Bengal under Mamata. Guess what? They blamed her “for the breakdown of health infrastructure” in hospitals. Even Dr Surya Kanta Mishra might have died laughing. NONE of the mainstream visual media bothered to report that post 2003, no child care unit has been set up in Bengal. While in last 11 months this government started 16 new units. I dont remember any news channel bothering to report setting up of 8 new Health Districts in the state, and bloc level health centers or even the launch of Mobile Delivery Programme for rural populace. Govt of West Bengal was recognised by Rashtriya Swasthya Beema Yojana as the best state doing good work on Health Insurance. Did you hear this in any national news channel? And if we complain of bias, we are called sycophants. The health infrastructure of this state has been systematically destroyed by the Left regime. To even expect one would change the system in a year would be naive. Change comes in small doses, and the process has been initiated.
17 June 2011. The Chief Minister met industrialists from all over the world to convey the policies of her government for investment in the state. This was followed up by an informal meet post Puja and Bengal Leads convention in January. The media which loves to perpetuate images it builds around a person, never bothered to cover any of these events. Instead, Mamata Banerjee’s lack of English speaking skills became the talk of the town post Bengal Leads convention. The fact that the convention garnered Rs 56000 crore investment for the state, notwithstanding. In the last 11 months, the state got Rs 90000 crore worth investment, thanks to the new Land Act passed by Bengal Assembly in March. Again, unreported in any of the Delhi based media.
Maoism has been a problem that wrecked West Bengal for decades. But since July 2011 there has been not a single report of any Maoist violence in the state. Jangalmahal has been seeing an unprecedented episode of peace, return of tourists and normal civil life. Kishenji, a dreaded leader of Naxals got killed by Joint Forces in an ambush while his partner Suchitra Mahato surrendered to the government wanting to return to mainstream society. Several Maoists have been taking the rehabilitation package of West Bengal government and giving up arms. Does the Home Minister of the State not deserve due credit? People who belong to North Bengal know how tumultuous the period between 2007-2008 had been thanks to Gorkhaland agitation. Under this new regime, peace has found a new address in Darjeeling and Jalpaiguri. Who deserves credit for this? Certainly not the Central government which had dragged its feet on the issue post 2009 elections.
West Bengal enjoys the reputation of being a state which is slow paced and always laid back. Our previous CM’s slogan “Do it Now” was much hyped in the media, but fell flat on its face when it came to implementation. The current CM has set a benchmark of work culture that is difficult to break. Working till late night (as late as 2AM), yet reporting to work at 9.30AM the next day – this has become a routine for most senior bureaucrats. And the CM is always a part of that group. Introducing biometric attendance, salary cut for not reporting to work on a Bandh Day, extending working days to Saturday – i am sure these could make inspiring stories, but sigh! A flyover project in Dumdum which had been going on for the last four years was put on fast track by this government. And guess what? It got inaugurated last month. Same is the case with the flyover at Parama island. When Mamata came to power, the project was not even 10% complete (2 years after foundation being laid). In 11 months, it is almost 50% complete. The riverfront project of Ganga ghats is another such example. A strict deadline set by CM worked wonders and 2 km stretch of ghats now dons a new look.
Talking of deadline, it really baffled me why the success story of the transport corporations remained unsaid in the media. Mamata Banerjee’s “deadline” of 6 months to various transport corporations in Bengal to “be self sufficient” to be eligible for state funds, drew heavy criticism. But the fact that it worked wonders and most loss making transport corporations like CSTC, NBSTC, CTC are now showing profit. A grand plan to remodel the transport system is underway comprising Metro, road, waterways and trams. Obviously it will not happen anytime soon. But should the media not fulfill its duty to inform the people that steps for “Poriborton” were being taken?
There are just few of the actions this 11 month old government has taken. If i start counting the performance of every ministry, it would take a blogpost the size of Mahabharata to summarise. From farmers to students, major reforms and programmes are in store for everyone. While some initiatives have already began, many more will take shape in the next four years. From biometric ration cards to weed out corruption in PDS to setting up of new universities and commisionerates, creation of new districts to decentralise power, several pro people policy decisions of this government could not attract media attention. If the media chooses not to highlight the good performance of a government, and harp on the goof-ups, is it wrong on the part of the CM to call for a news disseminating medium for itself?
The media’s job is to report, not support. When a government errs, it is the duty of the media to point it out. But when the government performs well, praises are due too. Twisting stories, reports lost in translation and negative propaganda certainly do not make for good journalism. And definitely not sycophantic stories that appear in another section of the media. One must not forget, the button of both the ballot box and remote lies in the hands of the public.