Trinamool Congress MP Mahua Moitra on Wednesday defended her comment about the media, saying a journalist had intruded on an internal party meeting without permission, The Indian Express reported.
Moitra’s comments came after a controversy erupted when the TMC leader described a journalist as a member of the “two paisa press”. In a video widely circulated on social media, the Krishnanagar MP can be seen gesticulating to a person to leave the venue of the meeting, held in Nadia district on Sunday, after he introduced himself as a reporter.
“Who has called du poisar [two paisa worth] press here?” she can be heard saying. “Do remove these elements from the venue. Some of our party members invite such people to closed-door meetings to see their faces on TV. This is not done.”
The Kolkata Press Club issued a statement condemning Moitra’s comment. “In a democratic set up, the importance of journalism and the respect it commands is known to all,” the press body said. “Journalists braving adverse situations as part of their professional struggle and social responsibility are respected by globally.”
The press club demanded that Moitra withdraw her comment and express regrets over it.
The video was also tweeted by the West Bengal unit of the Bharatiya Janata Party, which criticised the TMC leader for her “outrageous choice of words” and accused her of trying to patronise independent media.
‘It was an internal meeting’
Moitra responded to the Kolkata Press Club, saying it should look at the “miserable state of godi media before wasting words” on her, according to The Wire.
“[The] Press Club should instead give training, not everyone with a mobile phone can be called a ‘journalist’,” she also told The Indian Express on Wednesday. “It was a closed-door meeting and I do not allow my workers to carry phones.”
Moitra told the newspaper that a warring faction of the Trinamool Congress, which is unhappy with recent organisational changes in the party, had called the reporter to the closed-door meeting to gain leverage.
TMC leader Bapi Chatterjee was the party president in Gayeshpur during last year’s Lok Sabha elections. But after the polls, he was replaced by party leader Mintu Dey, Moitra said. “However, political strategist Prashant Kishor, who is advising the ruling party, reinstated Chatterjee to the position,” she added. “This angered the faction led by Dey, which labelled Chatterjee an outsider since he is from the neighbouring Kalyani area.”
Moitra said that Sunday’s meeting in Nadia district was convened to resolve the differences between the two sides. “As soon as I went there, they [Dey’s supporters] started showing placards that read ‘We will not accept an outsider as president’,” she told The Indian Express.
“What I said was between me and my party workers,” she added. “I didn’t tell this to the journalists. I saw a man standing at a distance recording all this on his mobile.”
Moitra told The Wire that while she stood by her words that the press did not belong at an internal meeting, the Press Club should not waste its time on a matter fomented by “bad elements” in the party who had called the press for their gains. “The press club should maybe look at their abysmally falling standards of members and the miserable state of the paid godi media before wasting time issuing statements against me,” she added.
The Trinamool Congress lawmaker also accused the BJP of politicising the matter. “I do not care about this godi media,” she added. “Some news channels are running this piece with distorted information for their own agenda.”
Meanwhile, Trinamool Congress’ Rajib Banerjee criticised Moitra. “She considers herself highly educated, such comments from her are unacceptable,” he told The Indian Express.
The Kolkata Press Club head and Doordarshan journalist Snehasis Sur, on the other hand, said that journalists in the state were hurt at the way “she made light of her initial comments”. Sur added that “everyone can comprehend what she wanted to convey in the Twitter post”.