Journalists and political parties alike have criticised the CBI move to freeze the bank accounts of the newspaper and TV channel. Mohammed Siddique reports
The Central Bureau of Investigation's move to freeze the bank accounts of the newspaper and TV channel owned by YSR Congress president YS Jaganmohan Reddy is threatening to develop into a confrontation between the government and the media.
Overcoming its initial confusion, the Andhra Pradesh Union of Working Journalists (APUWJ) and Indian Journalists Union (IJU) have decided to take up the issue as an "attack on the freedom of press" and has called for statewide rallies and demonstrations on Thursday to express solidarity with the staff of the newspapers and TV news channel.
A rally will be taken out in Hyderabad from the union office to Tank Bund to demand for defreezing the bank accounts.
The union leaders told a news conference in Hyderabad that the CBI had taken an arbitrary action of freezing the account without any orders from the court.
IJU Secretary General D Amar, APUWJ secretary Narinder Reddy and senior leader of the journalists union K Srinivas Reddy demanded the immediate defreezing of the accounts to enable the newspaper and the TV channel to continue their work.
'This action at this crucial political juncture has created an air of suspicion that it was politically motivated,' a statement by the APUWJ said. The statement added that it was the duty of the central government, which controls the agency, to clear the doubts.
'It is most unfortunate that the CBI has chosen to freeze bank accounts of the paper and the TV channel, while the investigation into the alleged illegalities in funding of the media group was still underway.'
The statement noted that the CBI had filed the chargesheets in the special court and the court had taken cognisance and issued summons to all the accused. But the court had not passed any order for freezing the bank accounts of any companies under probe.
The journalists' union leaders said that the action of the CBI in freezing the accounts had made it impossible for the newspaper and the TV channel to meet their day-to-day expenses.
The APUWJ is planning a protest program a day after while other groups including the employees of Sakshi group have already swung into action and have organised their own protests in Hyderabad and other places in the state.
The developments in Hyderabad have also had their effect at the national level, with The Indian Newspaper Society criticising the CBI action. INS President Ashish Bagga said that the freezing of bank accounts could lead to abrupt and sudden stoppage of printing and publication of Sakshi newspaper and render more than 10,000 employees jobless. INS described the CBI action as a "great threat to freedom of press" and demanded the central government and the authorities concerned should not take any steps that could derail the freedom of press.
Sakshi group has claimed that it has more than 20,000 employees on its rolls; the TV channel a monthly operational cost of Rs 25 crore, and a newsprint cost of Rs 10 crore.
Interestingly, the leader of Opposition N Chandrababu Naidu has found fault with the journalists for describing action against Sakshi group as an attack on freedom of press.
"Will you say the same thing if gangster Bhanu brings out a newspaper and action is taken against it for his criminal activity," asked Naidu.
The Bharatiya Janata Party, the Communist Party of India and the CPM too have criticised the CBI action.
They asked if the CBI will take the responsibility of the thousands of employees of the two organisations.
State CPM Secretary B V Raghavulu said that the CBI had no right to put the livelihood of thousands of people in jeopardy. "It is unfair on the part of the CBI to freeze the bank accounts without any reason," he said, adding that the party will stand with the thousands of employees and workers affected by the arbitrary decision.
CPI Secretary K Narayana said that even before completing the probe against Jagan the freezing of bank accounts was incomprehensible. The CBI should continue its probe with out endangering the freedom of the press and causing hardship to the employees of the two organisations.
State BJP spokesperson NVS Prabhakar demanded the press council to intervene in the matter and get the bank accounts defreezed.