Media may often be considered the fourth pillar of democracy, but press freedom is not always available in India. If one goes by the contentious World Press Freedom Index 2020, India's rank of 142 isn't promising. But at the same time, it must be mentioned that many have raised questions about methodology when it comes to the rankings. But repeated allegations about official restrictions being imposed on the media makes one reluctant to completely dismiss the idea.
On Wednesday morning, Rajya Sabha MP Swapan Dasgupta took to Twitter alleging that the "sustained administrative pressure" exerted by the West Bengal government on cable networks in and around Kolkata had let to them pulling the plug on satellite news channel, Calcutta News. The 24*7 news channel had allegedly been "mildly critical" of the Mamata Banerjee-led government in the state.
"I understand there is pressure to do the same to Sadhna News," Dasgupta said.
In a follow-up tweet he added that he would do his utmost to help "publications and TV networks maintain their independence in West Bengal".
"This sustained attack on news and opinions that are not to TMC’s liking is a feature of this state government that sustains itself on crude propaganda and sycophancy," he alleged.
Reports suggest that the news channel in question had been running anti-government stories in recent times. A Calcutta News reporter had also had a run-in with Chief Minister Mamata Banerjee at the state secretariat Nabanna recently.
This is not the first time the West Bengal government has faced similar allegations. According to a 2018 report by The Telegraph, several journalists were assaulted or confined by suspected Trinamul and BJP supporters. Those attacked included scribes from Anandabazar Patrika.
This does not seem to be restricted to journalists and media personnel alone. In 2012, Jadavpur University professor Ambikesh Mahapatra had been arrested and jailed for a night for forwarding a cartoon of Chief Minister Mamata Banerjee.
In 2015, the Calcutta High Court had ordered the state government to give him and his friend Rs 50,000 each (as directed by the state Human Rights Commission) as well as an additional compensation of Rs 25,000 for legal expenses.
Coming back to Calcutta News, the state government does not seem to have responded to the allegations so far. It must be said that the state government can claim plausible deniability when it comes to these accusations. They are nonetheless concerning.