If there is anything new that has been normalised this year, it is arbitrary governance and media bashing. Perhaps the Tripura chief minister’s unprecedented threat to newspapers and subsequent attacks on journalists is in tandem with the “new normal”.
On September 11, Tripura chief minister Biplab Kumar Deb, while inaugurating a special economic zone in the state, had issued an ultimatum to journalists in Tripura. He said, “A section of over-enthusiastic media is trying to mislead and confuse people by publishing exaggerated news on COVID. History will not forgive them, Tripura will not forgive them, nor shall I. History is witness that I, Biplab Kumar Deb do what I say.”
Within a month after the chief minister made those remarks, six journalists have been assaulted. Editors and reporters of newspapers have been attacked verbally and physically. As many as 23 first information reports (FIRs) have been filed by journalists who were attacked in the last almost three years. “As many as 23 journalists have been targeted, harassed and assaulted in the last two-and-a-half years.
So far, the government has not taken any action against the people accused of attacking journalists. Nowhere else in the country does a chief minister threaten the media,” says veteran journalist Subal Dey.
A few days ago, a reporter and a photojournalist were severely thrashed by “state-sponsored goons” in Sabroom in south Tripura. Their fault? They were covering an awareness drive on COVID-19, where some officials were not following basic protocols like wearing masks and social distancing. But as soon as the photojournalist, Ratan Debnath, began taking pictures, the officials snatched his camera, assaulted him physically, and also hurled a flurry of invectives. The reporter too was thrashed. Consequently, two FIRs were filed. So far, only one person, who is not even the prime accused, has been arrested in the case.
On September 12, a day after the chief minister’s infamous speech, Parashar Biswas, a reporter with a local daily, was severely beaten up at his residence, after he criticised Deb’s remarks in a Facebook video post. His FIR states that a group of “unidentified persons” had attacked him. Soon after the chief minister’s statement, sordid campaigns began on social media platforms to malign newspapers. Genuine news items have been branded as “fake news”, and that they were “violative of the Disaster management Act and Epidemic Disease Control Act,” even as the Tripura High Court took suo motu cognisance of those media reports on the plight of COVID-19 patients and their relatives.