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Monitoring West Bengal -

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Monitoring West Bengal -
#41
<!--QuoteBegin-->QUOTE<!--QuoteEBegin--><b>CPM gags media - hand, foot, mouth  </b>
Pioneer.com
Udayan Namboodiri | New Delhi
On Wednesday, as Communist police went on the rampage in Nandigram, a farmer decided to do the unthinkable. He hid in his mud hut a cameraman of the Bengali news channel, Tara News. Till late Wednesday, nobody in Kolkata had any idea whether Gouranga Deb Hazra was dead or alive.

With CPI(M) cadre and their uniformed auxiliaries forming a ring around the village, preventing outsiders from going in and insiders coming out, all telecommunications cut off and Gouranga's own mobile obviously lost, Debajyoti Chakraborty, Tara TV's News Head, was praying for a miracle.

This, some would say, is pure dramatisation. But the harried villagers of Nandigram and Khejuri, who know their only hope is support from the free world, have forged a hopeless alliance with sections of the media that still dare to report.

As evening moved into night, Gouranga's well wishers were hoping he's still alive.

Meanwhile, Tara News' competitors, far from expressing concern at a fellow professional's disappearance, shamefully parroted the Communist establishment's line that there was no massacre -- "The police fired in self-defence".

Gouranga, along with Tara News' correspondent, Bholanath Bijoli, had prior information that a huge police force would be entering Nandigram to back-up CPI(M) MP Lakkhan Seth's attack squad which is at the forefront of the land-grab movement. Over the past week, a huge assemblage of land-grabbers had been noticed on the Khejuri side of the Talpati canal. The villagers, who had rallied under the banner of Krishi Jami Bachi Bachao Committee had sent desperate appeals to the media. Bholanath and Gouranga were the only electronic media people to sneak into the village ahead of the police action.

The Bengali paper, Dainik Statesman, also got their man in but he was caught. The <b>PTI's Medinipur correspondent was also unlucky. "They were beaten up by the Marxists and the police. What is going on in West Bengal now is worse than the dark days of the Emergency", said Manash Ghosh, the paper's editor</b>.

<b>Thanks to the brave Tara News team, TV viewers in Bengal were getting a blow-by-blow account this morning of the firing and associated carnage. There was no question of getting pictures</b>, however. Their OB van could not make the three-and-a-half hour drive to Nandigram from Kolkata -- it was stopped at a place called Nandakumar.

"Our team was giving us the news over their mobile phones. They had separated and were constantly phoning in the descriptions of what they saw. But suddenly, while Gauranga was giving his story, the phone was snatched from him. The last we heard him say was 'I can't see Bholanath'. Then we lost touch with," their boss in Kolkata said.

In the rush of things that followed, Bholanath suddenly appeared from nowhere. Tara News ran the message constantly on the screen hoping public support would help them retrieve Gouranga. He was badly bruised, obviously given a sound thrashing. The villagers had managed to sneak him out. But Gouranga is still somewhere and his colleagues have got vague hints from sources they can't disclose that he is alive, but badly hurt. "We have heard that he is being given shelter in some hut. Meanwhile, we are expecting another wave of police-cadre attack tonight", said Chakraborty.

In CPI(M) country, the media is a divided house. One, huge section acts as the establishment's loudspeaker - mechanically reflecting whatever Chief Minister Buddhadeb Bhattacharjee and his cohorts dictate. The other group, which is fast reducing to a minority, still dares to question. And for that they pay heavily. Dainik Statesman, and its English parent, the 132-year-old The Statesman, are often prevented from distribution. On one occasion The Statesman's editor, Ravindra Kumar, was attacked inside his chamber by Marxist thugs. As for obstinate TV channels, there exists the same violent -- non-violent mix of options. Says Chakraborty: "Cable operators are forced to cut us off. This morning it happened again. As for violence, our man in Singur had to spend a month in hospital last October".

"Only a couple of newspapers and channels give you the balanced picture here. The rest are all sold to the Communists", said Jnanpith Award winning author and journalist Mahashweta Devi. Asked why Bengal's famed intellectuals never raise a voice against their rulers' tyranny, she said: "the Bengali intellectual died a long time ago". Sunanda Sanyal, another reputed columnist, said: "while a few media houses are still true to the tenets of their profession, most are spreading disinformation" 
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