For the last four days, the Kerala Assembly has been getting repeatedly adjourned, with the Opposition staging strong protests on the floor over a string of issues.
One of the main accusations hurled at the government is that the Opposition is being denied its rights, including that for an adjournment motion. The Leader of Opposition alleged that Sabha TV, the official and sole broadcaster of the Assembly proceedings, has them systematically muted.
“The Speaker denies our rights to speak in the Assembly. Even if an Opposition member is submitting something on the floor, the Sabha TV will focus the camera on the ministers,” said Opposition Leader VD Satheesan.
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“The other day, the Chief Minister chose to make a statement on the Brahmapuram dumpyard fire under Rule 300 where he is not bound to answer questions. He was acting like Aakashavani, just like the Prime Minister uses his show Mann ki Baat,” added the Congress veteran.
Four MLAs from Opposition benches – Abid Hussain Thangal, Roji M John, M Vincent and Mons Joseph – have announced their resignation from Sabha TV’s high-power committee which oversees the broadcast of Assembly proceedings.
Stating that Sabha TV is being used only to promote the government, the Opposition has vowed to boycott the television channel.
“The allegations raised by the Opposition are baseless,” Assembly Speaker AN Shamseer told The Federal. According to him, Sabha TV was broadcasting as per rules and he has not acted against members who filmed the proceedings and leaked them to the media, he told in the assembly.
“We have not yet gone to the extent of using advanced technology to block the filming of the Assembly,” added the speaker.
The Opposition leader retorted: “If the government and the speaker are using censorship methods inside the Assembly, the Opposition will be forced to film and disseminate the visuals.”
The rules introduced in Kerala were in line with those in force in Parliament. Accordingly, visual media were not to telecast any ruckus in the house and the cameras had to remain focused on the Speaker during such events.
It was during the UDF regime that telecast restrictions were introduced in the Kerala Assembly. Vakkom Purushothman was the Speaker when the amendment to the Assembly rules which curbed the functioning of the visual media in the House came into force. Ironically the now-ruling LDF – in the Opposition then – had vehemently opposed the amendment.
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Opposition leader (then) V S Achuthanandan even threatened to unleash mass protests against the imposition of Emergency-like censorship in the Assembly in 2002. Private channels were allowed at that time to shoot the proceedings – the question hour daily and other special matters as per the allowance of the speaker.
“There was wide discontent among the members, cutting across party lines, about TV channels misusing the Assembly footage, mainly for satirical shows. Many MLAs had this complaint that the TV stations are using their images crossing every limit of decency to make a mockery of the Assembly proceedings,” said M B Rajesh, the minister for local government, who was Assembly speaker earlier.
“This is why we decided not to entertain private TV crew inside the Assembly and started live streaming though Sabha TV,” he said.
“What the Opposition is levelling now are baseless allegations. We cannot show members protesting with banners and placards because it’s in contravention of existing rules,” added Rajesh.
Added Dr. N K Jayakumar, a former secretary of the Kerala Assembly: “It depends on the attitude of the speaker and the treasury benches. There were speakers who were very strict and others who were lenient towards the members.
“A majority of speakers do permit the members to voice their disapproval. Whoever speaks on the floor with the chair’s permission should be shown on telecast. So should be the one who legitimately intervenes. But unfurling a banner in front of the speaker, blocking his view or displaying placards are different. That won’t be allowed,” Jayakumar added.
After the Opposition quit the committee which manages Sabha TV, the government is reportedly considering engaging an editorial board with the Assembly secretary at the helm to oversee the channel, which is said to be running in loss.