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Winning the Sack Race

Those who think that it is only under the BJP rule that media owners have been put under political pressure to dismiss journalists critical of the government would do well to recall the case of Hartosh Singh Bal. A gritty, no-holds-barred journalist, Bal was the political editor of Open magazine when he was abruptly sacked in November 2013, during UPA II. The magazine’s owner is Sanjiv Goenka, the Kolkata-based industrialist known to be close to those in power (Bal’s successor as political editor is a committed pro-BJP journalist).

Bal challenged his dismissal in court and last week, six years later, a Delhi district court ruled that Bal’s sacking was illegal and ordered that he be paid six months’ salary under the Working Journalists Act plus another Rs 10 lakh on account of the harassment he faced.

Bal is now political editor with The Caravan magazine but his case has exposed the way media owners circumvent the Working Journalists Act by using the contract system to employ journalists. What the court’s judgment has established is that the Act, meant to protect journalists from arbitrary action, does not get superseded by signing a contract.

Sunset for Afternoon

For many Mumbaikers, their commute to home after work was always made more enjoyable with a copy of the lively evening tabloid, Afternoon Despatch & Courier, in particular, its last page, with a hugely popular column, Round & About, by Busybee. Busybee, as everyone knew, was the paper’s founder, Behram Contractor, the whimsical Parsee who wrote about Mumbai like no one else, with humour and pathos, and was called the Art Buchwald of India.

He launched the tabloid in 1985 with his wife Farzana, and it survived his death in 2001. But recently, the owners issued a notice of closure stating that July 19, 2019, was the last working day at the publication’s office. The reasons given were continuing financial troubles, dwindling circulation and poor advertisement revenues.

The end was not without its controversy following a bitter and partly public spat between Farzana, the paper’s CEO, and the owner, the flamboyant Mumbai businessman, Kamal Morarka, the chairman of the paper. The two had been at loggerheads for quite a few years before Morarka brought the curtains down.

Farzana says that Morarka had given money to Contractor to start the paper. Though the money was repaid, the shares of the company were never transferred in the name of the Contractors. Morarka has his own version but the fact remains that without Busybee, the paper had lost its iconic stature.

Battle Lines

The YouTube version of the feisty and articulate TMC MP Mahua Moitra’s speech in parliament where she attacked the BJP government on various fronts went viral with a vengeance. It also landed her in court after she filed a criminal defamation case against Zee News Editor-in-Chief Sudhir Chaudhary for alleging that her speech on the “Seven Signs of Fascism” was plagiarised. The allegation could not be proved but such is Chaudhary’s clout that Zee Media Corporation Ltd has filed a criminal defamation case against Moitra for calling Zee News “chor” (thief) and paid news.

In the complaint, the company has quoted from an interaction with the media where Moitra admonished a Zee news reporter, stating: “What your paid news is saying, I am not bothered about it.” She is also accused of lashing out at Zee TV boss Subhash Chandra, saying: “Your channel is a thief. Its owner is a thief… you all are so uneducated and stupid…”

The complaint holds that the “intentional hate campaign” of Moitra has tarnished the reputation of the complainant. But Moitra is no pushover.

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