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Is business or politics behind clash between BPP and Parsi paper?

Parsi Punchayet declares a boycott on one of the oldest community newspapers for negative stories but others allege ulterior motives

Two months after a heated community election, the city’s Parsi population is witnessing another historic battle as the centuries-old Bombay Parsi Punchayet (BPP) takes on one of the community’s oldest newspapers, Jam-e-Jamshed.

BPP chairman Yezdi Desai (left), former chairman Dinshaw Mehta (centre) and his son Viraf
BPP chairman Yezdi Desai (left), former chairman Dinshaw Mehta (centre) and his son Viraf

In a surprise move last week, the Punchayet boycotted the 184-year-old newspaper on the grounds that it is bringing a ‘bad name to the BPP’. At a board meeting convened on June 28 by the BPP, a majority vote was passed by four out of six trustees to not offer any advertisements, public notices, or news to Jam-e.

“The paper has been writing against the BPP and its trustees, which is why we have decided not to make any more announcements in that publication,” said Yezdi Desai, chairman of the BPP, adding, “They have also been charging us for community-related news that we want to publish, which other papers like Parsi Times let us publish for free.”

Desai further alleged that Jam-e was carrying news and paid advertisements against them under the influence of previous BPP chairman, Dinshaw Mehta. He came down hard on Jame-e editor Shernaaz Engineer, saying, “She is in no way helping us. She only publishes letters from people who have an axe to grind with BPP.”

He added, “Jame-e should behave in a manner that is as respectable as its heritage; it cannot allow its pages to be used by people who are willing to pay and write whatever they want.”

However, there are counter-allegations that the Punchayet has declared this ‘ban’ on Jam-e for ulterior motives. One allegation is that the BPP is merely doing this because one of the trustees, Kersi Randeria, owns the rival paper, Parsi Times (see ‘Editor says’). Another theory is that this battle is an extension of the battle between trustees during the April election (see ‘Election fallout?’).

Newspaper rivalry
BPP’s ex-chairman Dinshaw Mehta pointed out that rival publication Parsi Times is owned by trustee Kersi Randeria. “He wants to discredit Jam-e so that he can use his paper for his own and the Punchayet’s ends,” said Mehta. His son Viraf is a current trustee and voted against the ban on Jam-e. Viraf said, “I had asked Mr Randeria to abstain from voting since his paper would directly benefit from the ban on Jam-e.”

Election fallout?
The friction between trustees came to light this April, when the BPP held elections to fill one vacant seat on the board. The frontrunners were Armaity Tirandaz and Arnavaz Mistry. While Arnavaz turned to Parsi Times for her campaign, Armaity relied on Jam-e. While Arnavaz had the support of four out of six trustees, it was Armaity who won with the support of ex-chairman Dinshaw Mehta. Mehta alleged that Jam-e was bearing the brunt of her loss. “In the April election, four of the six board members were rooting for Arnavaz to win, whereas the other two, including my son Viraf, were rooting for Armaity. When the latter won, the BPP blamed the paper for Arnavaz’s loss and retaliated by saying they won’t issue advertisements and public notices in Jam-e,” he said.

Jam-e-Jamshed editor says...
“Almost every one of the BPP trustees, including the present chairman Yezdi Desai, has come to Jam-e-Jamshed over the years to get their message across to the Parsi community,” said Jam-e editor Shernaaz Engineer, in an email to mid-day. “It is only now, since one of the sitting trustees has his own newspaper, that a few BPP trustees want to channel their media interaction only through their favoured publication.” She also alleged that BPP trustees, were trying to use newspapers as a mouthpiece in their power play. “In this tug-of-war, some BPP trustees expect that an independent newspaper should only convey news and views that are supportive of them and not the other side. This is against the fundamental purpose of free press; we are not in the business of suppressing news, gagging views or taking sides,” stated Engineer.

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