Saturday, April 27, 2013

Our proximity was our power

Our proximity was our power

On Thursday, a section of employees of the Saradha-owned Channel 10 lodged an FIR against the group's former media chief executive officer Kunal Ghosh and six officials.

On Friday, one of the employees told The Telegraph on condition of anonymity because he feared for his safety why the complaint was filed.

The account describes how several ministers used to appear on the channel's news programmes. There is nothing wrong in visiting a media office or appearing on a channel to put across views or information. Trinamul as well as Left Front ministers have appeared on ABP Ananda, the news channel owned by the publishers of The Telegraph.

But the following first-person account is being published since many leaders associated with the ruling party are now scrambling to distance themselves from the organisations parented by the Saradha Group. The response of Kunal Ghosh is also given at the end since some claims are made against him.

Since 2011, a layperson could have mistaken our Park Street office for the Trinamul Congress headquarters with senior ministers and top party leaders frequenting our office several times daily.

While transport minister Madan Mitra and the party's all-India general secretary Mukul Roy were the most regular, education minister Bratya Basu and finance minister Amit Mitra were seen now and then in our office.

I have been working in Bengali news channels ever since they emerged in the state. But only since 2011 have I been witness to a situation where everything I had learnt in the profession had to be tossed out of the window in order to keep my job.

I remember, sometime last year, I was happy, proud and yet scared when the chief minister urged viewers to spend more time watching Channel 10 during an interview from the Writers' Buildings. Happy, because of the faith Mamata Banerjee reposed in us. Proud, because of her public endorsement of the organisation I represent. Scared, because I knew such a set-up could not last forever.

Today, we are going from door to door looking for jobs, not having received our salaries for the past three months.

On April 4, last year, during the Saradha Group of Media's first meeting, chairman Sudipta Sen and CEO Kunal Ghosh had flooded some 3,000 of us with assurances and dreams. Trinamul MP Satabdi Roy attended the meeting.

We are unassailable because of our proximity to the ruling party, we were told. We will emerge as the biggest house, with no rivals, Sen told us.

For a while, even cynics among us believed that being the ruling party's mouthpiece would protect us from anything.

Our belief was strengthened by frequent text messages attributed to Mamata Banerjee that were forwarded to us — greetings that welcomed us in office during every festival.

We felt secure in our job. After all, cabinet minister Madan Mitra was the president of our employees' union.

But all that has come to naught.

That is frustrating because Trinamul and its supremo were omnipresent on our channel, because all we did for two years was sing their praises the loudest. We were told that it was the only way to grow, reach the top and stay there.

Ghosh dictated it, of course. He used to instruct the bosses over phone that we will have to tom-tom the government's achievements, defend it in times of crisis and ignore anything worthy of criticism.

Whenever an instance of campus violence took place, Bratya Basu was in our studios to defend the government. After the state budget speech, Amit Mitra would analyse the budget for our viewers.

When Ghosh toured with the chief minister, we would always get the inside stories from Ghosh. Nothing negative, of course.

Most of us knew what we were having to do for holding on to our jobs was wrong and that nobody took us seriously because we only said positive things about the government. But we were forced to behave like the three proverbial monkeys.

Ghosh responds

On alleged instructions by him to tom-tom government achievements: Any newspaper or channel can have an editorial policy. How can somebody level an allegation about what policy I should decide? Anybody can take a stand.

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