Sacked employees of ABP Sanjha News, a Punjabi channel of the Anandabazar Patrika group that closed down on Wednesday after non-access to the cable network in Punjab, held a protest march in Sector 17 here on Thursday against what they termed the "cable network mafia" of the state.
The channel management had reportedly cited the virtual blackout of the channel by Fastway Transmissions Private Limited, which covers around 75% of the cable network in Punjab, as the prime reason for closure. The channel's content was mostly available on video-sharing websites like YouTube but could never be aired at large. The group runs leading channels including ABP News in Hindi.
On Wednesday, the group's human resources head Satyakki Bhattacharya had gathered staff at the Sanjha office in SAS Nagar and announced the pack-up. He had also announced three months' salary for staff to be let off, and added that even if they ran the channel on the digital, direct-to-home (DTH) network, they won't be able to sustain it.
This had left 200 employees, including 100 in the editorial operations, jobless. Many of them gathered in Sector 17 on Thursday and alleged that the SAD-BJP government was hand in glove with the cable mafia and "wants to gag every independent voice in the state".
Holding placards, the around 150 protesters raised slogans of 'Down with Badal sarkar' and against the cable mafia, gathered at Sector 17 Plaza. The sacked employees have now formed a Journalist Action Committee to organise Punjab-wide protests against the cable mafia and the Parkash Singh Badal-led government.
"We shouldn't forget that those who are today shutting down one after another news channel, also aspire to gag every critical voice, be it even in the form of newspapers or magazines," said Punjab and Haryana high court lawyer Rajwinder Bains who was also part of the protest. Another high court lawyer, Navkiran Singh, said if the political establishment of the state was allowed to go on like this, "soon there will be no independent media voice to report atrocities by the police and the State".
Under similar circumstances, another private channel, Day and Night News, had had to severely scale down its operations last year.
It was alleged then too that the state government was patronising a certain news channel and protecting its turf by virtually blanking out potential competitors on cable TV. Congress leader Sukhpal Singh Khaira was also present to express solidarity and said such moves were destroying the future of many young journalists. "The Badal family wants that the people of the state watch only those channels that it owns," he remarked.
Among those who addressed the gathering were documentary filmmaker and journalist Daljit Ami, Aam Aadmi Party (AAP) leaders Manjeet Singh and Rajeev Godara, and NGO Students for Society's (SFS) representative Arshdeep Kaur. "This closure must be seen as a dark sign of a bleak future," said Arshdeep.
Journalists from some other media organisations that were purported victims of the cable mafia addressed the protesters too.
Even ABP's HR head Bhattacharya wrote on social networking website Twitter on Wednesday: "Very Sad And Very Angry At The Same Time. #Death of #Journalism in #Punjab. courtesy local system (sic)".At the colure announcement, sources had told HT on Wenesday, Bhattacharya had said the top management of the group from Delhi had even approached the SAD-BJP regime for help but nothing had come of that.