Tripura: Journalists Condemn CM Biplab Kumar's Statements, Say They Led to Attacks

The chief minister claimed the media's coverage of COVID-19 has been alarmist, following which two journalists were roughed up.

New Delhi: Two journalists in Tripura were attacked by unknown persons within 24 hours of state chief minister Biplab Kumar Deb accusing local media of “confusing people” and “getting overexcited” about reporting on the spread of COVID-19 in the Northeastern state.

The state has so far registered the highest mortality rate among the Northeastern states due to the virus and has recorded 200 deaths as of Monday. A Central team has reportedly arrived at the BJP-run state on September 10 to help the administration handle the pandemic.

As per a Tripura Times report, a TV journalist from Hrishyamukh area was attacked “by some miscreants believed to be local level BJP leaders”. It said, “The miscreants tried to snatch his camera and hurled abusive languages while he went to cover an event at Chailthkhala area of South Tripura district.” The incident happened on Friday night, hours after the chief minister criticised the media’s coverage of the pandemic.

Yet another journalist, Parashar alias Pinku Biswas from Ambassa in Dhalai district, associated with a local TV unit and a Bengali daily Syandan Patrika, “was attacked by some miscreants [on] the intervening night of Saturday and Sunday” at his house.

Parashar, who is said to have just recovered from COVID-19 – which he had contracted during his work – “had made an aggressive Facebook video against the chief minister’s comments on the media.” Police sources were quoted in the news report claiming that the video “acted as immediate trigger” for the attack. Biswas has been admitted to a local hospital.

The Wire tried contacting Syandan Patrika editor Subal Dey on the matter but has not been able to get across to him so far. However, Dey told NDTV on September 14, “He (Biswas) was attacked within a day after the chief minister issued a threat against the media and within 12 hours of his Facebook post. We suspect this attack to have been carried out by BJP members.”

This past September 11, the CM, while laying the foundation stone for the first special economic zone at Sabroom in South Tripura district, reportedly said, “Some newspapers are trying to confuse people, getting over excited …History will not forgive them, people of Tripura will not forgive them and I, Biplab Deb, will not forgive them.”

As per a PTI report, he also said, “I do whatever I say, history is testimony to that.”

The chief minister’s speech, which went viral, has been condemned by the state’s journalists. On September 13, journalists unions including Tripura Assembly of Journalists (TSA), a newly floated forum to handle issues related to the protection of working journalists, held a press conference at the Agartala Press Club to condemn the attack on the two reporters. Several senior editors and journalists alleged that the attacks were due to the chief minister’s controversial speech.

Syandan Patrika editor Subal Dey is the chairman of the TSA. In a press statement, the forum said that it would not tolerate any ill-treatment meted out to the state’s journalists. Expressing deep concern for these attacks on reporters, it said that the TSA has decided to approach not only the Editors’ Guild, the Press Council of India, the International Federation of Journalists and the Commonwealth Human Right Initiative but also the state governor R.K. Bais and Union home minister Amit Shah.

The journalists’ bodies at the press meet also gave the chief minister three days to withdraw his comments against media.  The PTI report quoted Biplab Deb’s media advisor Sanjoy Kumar Mishra claiming that the CM’s comments “were taken out of context and distorted”.

The local BJP unit also reportedly denied any role in the attack. “We condemn the attack on the journalist. None of our party members are involved in this. Police has started investigation. If any political party members are involved, law will take its course,” state party spokesperson Nabendu Bhattacharjee told NDTV on September 14.

State DGP (in-charge) Rajiv Singh confirmed to the news channel that a case has been filed and the probe is on.

No arrest has been made in any of the cases yet.