India

"Monkey Shown As Tiger": Tripura Chief Minister Clarifies Remark On Media

Tripura Chief Minister Biplab Deb had criticised state media over its Covid coverage

Agartala:

Days after Tripura Chief Minister Biplab Deb caused a furore by declaring he would not "forgive" state media for its "confused" coverage of the Covid crisis, he sought to clarify his comments.

The Chief Minister on Tuesday evening said that although he never meant to hurt anyone he was performing his duty as a guardian of the state. He said he had to protect the people from confusion over the management of the coronavirus pandemic.

"The issue I raised in my speech that day was not aimed to hurt or criticise anyone. It was to alert the people of Tripura about confusion and some conspiracy. It is my duty to protect the people from all these. Sometime publicity is such that a monkey is shown as a tiger and tiger is shown as a monkey," Mr Deb told a delegation of journalists from the electronic media.

Last week Mr Deb launched a vehement criticism of a section of Tripura newspapers for publishing stories that alleged the health crisis had been mishandled by the BJP government.

"A few newspapers and journalists are getting overexcited and confusing the people of Tripura. History would not forget them. I will also not forgive them. People of Tripura will not forget them. Biplab Deb will not forget them. I do what I say, I keep my words. History will remain witness to it," Mr Deb had said.

The comment was heavily criticised by the press; journalists said it was an attack on the freedom of the press and some reportedly gave the Chief Minister an ultimatum to withdraw the statement.

A rural journalist who criticised Mr Deb through an aggressive social media post was roughed up.

The Forum for Protection of Media and Journalists had condemned the Chief Minister's statement and called a meeting of journalists in Agartala.

"In the past, newspapers and journalists working in Tripura had confrontations with the government but, for the past two years, the state has tried to turn the media into a slave," Subal Dey, the group's chairman, said.

The row over press freedom in the state came shortly after the Tripura High Court sought a report from the government over anti-Covid measures and infrastructure. The report is to be presented on Friday.

In the hearing, held via video-conference, the court said: "Recent newspaper reports particularly published in vernacular language have reported the plight of patients and relatives of those who have tested positive. Certain shortcomings in public healthcare system are projected."

Tripura health department officials have said testing facilities have been scaled up in a big way. The state now has four testing labs - two with RT-PCR units and two with TRUENAT machines.

Among smaller states Tripura has the highest per million test rate - at 83,093. The state has tested over 3.22 lakh people - the majority through Rapid Antigen Test (RAT) kits, official sources have said.

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The centre has also sent an expert team to help the state, where Covid-related deaths are on the rise.

Tripura has the highest coronavirus mortality rate in the northeast - 1.10 per cent - and 217 deaths have been recorded. Overall the state has around 20,000 confirmed Covid cases so far, of which around 7,500 are active.