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Two newspapers stay afloat

Calcutta, May 4: Two newspapers that Saradha used to run with content catering to the minority community have managed to stay afloat despite the closure of other media outfits run by the group.

Trinamul sources attributing their survival amid odds to intervention by chief minister Mamata Banerjee.

The two dailies are Azad Hind, the oldest Urdu newspaper in Calcutta, and Kalam, whose readers are mostly Bengali-speaking Muslims.

Both newspapers, which have been in circulation for over three decades and had been facing financial constraints, became part of the Saradha media basket after the Trinamul Congress came to power in May 2011.

Although the Sudipta Sen-owned Saradha Group closed down its media operations in the second week of April, the two dailies are still in circulation.

“No businessman or media house approached by the party in the aftermath of the default crisis agreed to take over the two publications, but still they have managed to stay afloat. It will not be incorrect to say that the party is directly running the two publications,” a Trinamul MLA who belongs to the minority community and who is said to be closely monitoring the running of the papers said.

“As the Saradha publications and channels have shut shop, the party hardly has any interface with people right now. With the panchayat polls due any time, the party needs a vehicle to carry the chief minister’s message to the minority community. That is why the two papers are still operating,” the MLA said.

According to him, Trinamul all-India general secretary Mukul Roy has been looking after the affairs of the two papers. On April 15, Roy, his son Subhrangshu, mayor Sovan Chatterjee, a former IPS officer associated with the Saradha Group, lawyers and chartered accountants visited the Market Street (near Rippon Street) office of the two papers and assured the employees that the papers would remain in circulation.

“Mukulda and the others visited the office on the instructions of the chief minister, who is in favour of keeping the two papers afloat at any cost,” the Trinamul MLA said.

According to sources in the party, after Roy left the office, employees were given an “ex gratia” payment equivalent to their 15 days’ pay. The sources said the cash had been brought in “two leather bags” by the team that visited the office.

When journalists asked Roy about their future, he told them the chief minister had instructed him to take care of them, the MLA said.

Contacted by The Telegraph today, Roy refused comment. “I will not comment on this,” he said.

Asif Khan Ashrafi, a close associate of Roy, has been appointed the CEO of the newly floated Azad Hind and Kalam Staff Welfare Association, which is running the papers.

Asked about the funding for the two papers, he said the employees were running the publications on their own. “They are contacting donors and companies, requesting for advertisements. That is how we are funding the two newspapers,” he said.

According to a Trinamul MP, another reason why Mamata wants to keep the two dailies running is that she does not want the impression to gain ground that she is not doing anything to save around 500 journalists working in the two newspapers from losing their jobs, especially at a time leaders of her party have had associations with other media outfits of the Saradha Group. Around 1,000 journalists and technical staff lost their jobs after the other newspapers and channels of the group folded up.

“But exactly the opposite is happening. In the past one week, more than 30 employees in the editorial and circulation departments were asked to leave without being given any reason. There are more names on the sack list,” a journalist with Azad Hind said.

Almost 90 per cent of the employees of the two papers belong to the minority community.

At a rally in Shyambazar yesterday, the chief minister had said she had not been informed that Saradha’s media wing employees were not getting their salaries. “If I am not informed, how will I get to know?” she had asked.

Azad Hind was once the most respected Urdu daily printed in Calcutta. It used to be edited by Ahmad Saeed Malihabadi, who later went on to become a Rajya Sabha MP. Kalam, a Bengali weekly, highlights the cause of Bengali Muslims. Till March 31, Kalam had a daily circulation of close to 40,000 and Azad Hind, 12,000.