A news blackout is currently the biggest news out of West Bengal.
A top editor of Kolkata was arrested by the CBI on Thursday in connection with an ongoing investigation into a ponzi scheme scam, but the arrest has found little or no coverage at all in Kolkata media.
Though the news of the arrest of Suman Chattopadhyay made it to social media, top Bengali dailies such as the Ananda Bazar Patrika, Pratidin, Aajkal and Ei Samay totally blacked out the news. Chattopadhyay was the editor of Ei Samay, a mass-circulated daily from the Times of India stable. Having ignored the story, Ei Samay the next day quietly dropped Chattopadhyay’s name from the print line. It named the sports editor as the paper’s new editor.
TV channels too competed among each other to whitewash the news of the arrest. Star Ananda, the top Bengali news channel run by the Ananda Bazar group, made no mention of Chattopadhyay for many hours following his arrest. Zee Bangla, another widely watched channel, also to failed to report the event.
The non-coverage has led to tongues wagging. Why newsmen of Kolkata are not covering the biggest news, asked a retired bureaucrat. Others said the blackout amounted to censorship, ordered by an outsider or self-imposed.
Chattopadhyay is no ordinary journalist. Before becoming the editor of Ei Samay, he ran Ananda Bazar, the most influential of Bengali newspapers, for years. He was also credited with launching the group’s Star Ananda channel. In between, he had started his own newspaper Ekdin, which now has come to haunt him. The CBI alleges that Chattopadhyay had taken funds from I-Core, a chit fund company. I-Core allegedly raised more than Rs 3000 crore, leaving thousands of small investors in the lurch.
Whether Chattopadhyay is guilty or not is a different matter. The CBI suffers from a crisis of credibility and often its allegations have turned out to be untrue. There is also a political angle to the ponzi scam probe with Bengal chief minister Mamata Banerjee accusing the central investigating agency of undertaking a political witch hunt. There is of course a possibility that Chattopadhyay has become a pawn in a larger political fight.
But what is right now central to the story is the non-story of the arrest.
Local journalists say the reason for the blackout could be two. One, the ruling political dispensation ordered it as it does not want the chit fund probe to be publicised to save itself of embarrassment. Several ministers and legislators are allegedly involved in the scam and the ruling party is out to minimise the damage.
The other reason could be that Chattopadhyay was among the best-known journalists of the state and the media fraternity has been in awe of him. They are therefore going soft and decided to self-censor.
Neither of the two reasons can justify the blackout. Readers have the right to know and journalists are obliged to give them the news.
Strangely, another Bengali editor was arrested some years ago in connection with the chit fund scam and at that time, the newspapers and channels ran a wall-to-wall coverage. Kunal Ghosh, also a Rajya Sabha MP, had incidentally fallen out with Mamata Banerjee. But while hysteric coverage is not called for, equally unjustified is the total silence. If anyone has fallen following Chattopadhyay’s arrest, it is the Kolkata media’s standing as a sentinel of the society.
The story has been updated to remove the name of Bartman. It was wrongly named in the earlier version.