Tripura govt not standing by newspaper industry during COVID-19 crisis, raiding offices: Media body

Agartala, Jun 30 (PTI) Newspaper owners of Tripura on Tuesday alleged that the state government is not supporting them when the industry is going through a crisis due to coronavirus and lockdown, and instead, is raiding their offices 'illegally', a charge rejected by the administration.

The Tripura Newspapers' Society (TNS), the sole organisation of newspaper proprietors in the BJP-ruled state, said its representatives called on Chief Minister Biplab Kumar Deb on May 27, seeking a financial package for the survival of the industry.

'Claiming to be a believer of the freedom of the press, the chief minister assured the delegation to consider the matter sympathetically, but no response was received from the government even after a month,' the TNS said in a statement.

The circulation of newspapers has dropped throughout the world due to the coronavirus pandemic and the newspaper industry in Tripura is also suffering losses, said the statement issued after the TNS held a meeting on Sunday.

'Instead of standing by the newspapers in the time of extreme crisis, the state government was ignoring the country's law and raiding the offices of weekly and daily newspapers.

'Editors of various newspapers have strongly condemned the illegal act of raiding newspaper offices by the officials of the Information and Cultural Affairs (ICA) Department,' the statement said. Under whose direction and under which law these steps had been taken is not known, the TNS said.

ICA Director Ratan Biswas, however, denied that any newspaper offices were raided.

'If specific instances of such incidents are brought to our notice, we will definitely investigate it,' he said.

The Registrar of Newspapers for India (RNI), a central government agency that checks circulation of newspapers, has suspended verification due to COVID-19 pandemic, while the Audit Bureau of Circulations, which certifies circulation figures of publications, has also closed audit, the TNS claimed.

Due to the lockdown, companies have stopped issuing advertisements in newspapers across the world and the owners of publications are either going for retrenchment or slashing salary of employees, it said.

The governments of Gujarat, Karnataka, Punjab, Andhra Pradesh and Telangana have announced financial packages for the survival of the media industry, while the Tripura government is raiding newspaper offices, it claimed.

Running newspapers from a landlocked state like Tripura is a costly business as all materials are brought from outside.

'Even in such a hard time, the proprietors are trying to run their publications as 6,000 people are directly involved with this industry. Besides, there are 4,000 newspaper vendors,' the statement said.

When contacted, TNS chairman Subal Kumar De claimed the government officials raided offices of various newspapers, including his own daily 'Syandan Patrika', and sought information on circulation, employees besides other details.

However, the officials failed to show any order assigning them to do it, De asserted.