Bengaluru: Mediapersons in Karnataka were up in arms on Thursday against Assembly Speaker Vishveshwara Hegde Kageri after coverage of the Assembly proceedings by private television channels was banned.
While the speaker said the restriction was temporary and was being done on an "experimental" basis for three days and that he was open to discussions later, the media appeared unconvinced with the assurances.
A delegation of journalists from national and regional channels met Kageri to persuade him to withdraw the unilateral order, which they said “goes against the spirit and ethos of democracy”.
"We feel this decision impinges on our right to inform the public. The Karnataka Legislature has its independent history and for the past 25 years, from when video journalists were allowed inside the House to record its proceedings, we have tried our best to perform our duties towards the people of our state. It is all the more disturbing that you did not call us for consultations on the matter before issuing such an order," a memorandum by the journalists stated.
"We will discuss this after three days," Kageri told the journalists after the brief meeting.
The government’s move to restrict media coverage drew flak from the Opposition parties as well, with former chief ministers Siddaramaiah and HD Kumaraswamy speaking out against it.
Siddaramaiah said that the Speaker did not seem to follow the rule-book on allowing discussions within the Assembly either. "He did not listen to what all the Opposition members were saying. Our demand for an extended session to discuss the huge damage due to floods just fell on deaf ears. I don't know if he was dictated by the RSS or anyone else. This is totally anti-democracy," he said.
Journalists are now planning to hold a protest on Friday against the move to restrict the press.
Chief Minister BS Yediyurappa initially said he would speak to the Speaker and persuade him to withdraw the order.
"My government is always committed to freedom of media. I will make a sincere effort and request Speaker Vishveshwara Hegde Kageri to reconsider his decision on barring media from telecasting the house proceedings," the chief minister wrote on Twitter at 9.58 am on Thursday.
However, the tweet was deleted within 15 minutes and the issue was not taken up with the Speaker.
The Karnataka Assembly had opened its doors to media coverage, allowing videographers and photographers in the same floor as the MLAs about 10 years ago. However, with an increase in the number of videographers and the fact that many channels started doing a multi-camera deployment for live coverage, the camera crews were asked to shift to the second floor gallery from where they could still capture all sides of the Assembly. Reporters were allowed in the media gallery on the same floor as the MLAs (and they continue to be, even today).
It was during one such routine coverage in February 2012, during a discussion when Union Minister Sadananda Gowda was chief minister, that regional channels caught on camera three ministers watching pornographic clips on their phones inside the Assembly during the session.
The controversy was dubbed as ‘porngate’ scandal and the three ministers were asked to resign. Interestingly, two of those ministers, Laxman Savadi and CC Patil, are back in the Yediyurappa cabinet now. Savadi is one of the three deputy chief ministers.