‘In a democracy, such bias towards select papers is shocking'

In a strongly-worded letter to West Bengal Chief Minister Mamata Banerjee, the Congress on Sunday demanded the immediate withdrawal of the circular restricting the purchase of newspapers by State libraries and those it aids and sponsors to ones specified by it.

“Undemocratic”

Protesting the move, which he described as “most partial and undemocratic,” West Bengal Pradesh Congress Committee president Pradip Bhattacharya said “there is no such precedence for this type of blatant attempt to institutionalise a system of patronage at the cost of the exchequer.”

The Department of Mass Education Extension and Libraries Services has, in two separate orders, drawn up two lists in which 13 newspapers are mentioned. It has directed that purchases by the public libraries shall be restricted to these newspapers.

Public outcry

The decision triggered a public outcry and it was criticised by a cross-section of civil society as well as several political parties.

“In our constitutional and democratic political order, such partiality towards select newspapers and the directives that no other newspapers can be kept in libraries is shocking,” Mr. Bhattacharya has said.

Attacks on journalists

He was also critical of not just another government directive to discontinue government advertisements in the publications at rural, block and district levels but also the administration's failure to arrest those responsible for recent attacks on journalists.

“The government measures and circulars are being widely interpreted as constituting attempts to muzzle the press,” says the letter.

“The Indian National Congress is committed to democracy, the rule of law, freedom of expression and a free press and, as such, we cannot condone any move or government circulars that attempt to run counter to these ideals,” Mr. Bhattacharya said.

Calling for the immediate withdrawal of the circulars and measures to book those responsible for the attack on journalists, Mr. Bhattacharya pointed out that “such a withdrawal [of the circular] would not lower the prestige of the government but, rather, will save the situation from deteriorating any further”.

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