Parliament filibuster: Congress' anger over TV 'blackout' completely misplaced

The Congress’ anger over Lok Sabha TV’s alleged “blackout” of their daily protests inside the Lower House of the Parliament by entering the well, displaying posters and placards, slogan-shouting and disrupting proceedings may be completely misplaced.

The Congress leadership's frustration stems from the fact that despite using all forms of noisy protest on the floor of the Parliament, at least in Lok Sabha, it has failed to grab the headlines in news reporting. The occasional pictures of Rahul Gandhi and other Congress leaders entering Parliament premises with black armbands have appeared in sections of media but due to the lack of visual footage, their sloganeering, no matter how loud, has been falling on deaf ears with 24X7 news channels. The Congress’ innovative tactics of raising their placards and posters to enter Lok Sabha TV camera frames also yielded zero results. Rahul is said to be particularly keen to make an impact against the Narendra Modi government in the ongoing monsoon session but in the battle of wits, the Congress has so far been a loser.

Lok Sabha TV has found ways of not showing the unruly protests that have been taking place inside the House since it opened for the monsoon on July 21, and has to constantly adjust its cameras to broadcasting such scenes. This has irked the Congress brass enough for the normally reticent party president to lead the charge against the Modi government. Other party MPs, including Rahul, have taken the cue and also hit out against the NDA government and the public broadcaster.

 Parliament filibuster: Congress anger over TV blackout completely misplaced

Representational image. PTI

While the Congress has been raving and ranting outside Parliament, the party has yet to file any official complaint either to the Speaker or to the television channel. The issue is expected to re-emerge when Parliament reopens on Thursday. Both Houses of Parliament were adjourned for two days, after paying homage to the departed former President APJ Abdul Kalam.

The `Broadcasting and telecasting of the President Address, Lok Sabha proceedings and other Parliamentary Events Guidelines’ issued by Audio Visual & Telecasting unit of Lok Sabha secretariat in March 2010 says, “the telecast of Lok Sabha proceedings should be a reflection of what is happening in the House, including scenes of disorders like walkouts etc. However, on occasions of disorder in the House when members are entering the well etc., camera should be focused on the occupant of the Chair.”

These guidelines were formulated when Meira Kumar was the Speaker and the Congress-led UPA was in power at the Centre. It is a lengthy documentation of how the public broadcaster was supposed to cover the proceedings of the House, including how cameras were to be placed and what dos and don’ts were to be followed while telecasting. The Congress, now in the Opposition, can only rue the issuance of telecast norms when it was at the helm.

The new set of guidelines had overwritten 2005 guidelines which were not averse to showing situations of pandemonium: “on occasions of such disorder in the House, the cameras will focus on the spots of disorder in the Chamber. In such situations, short glimpses of the occupant of the Chair may be shown occasionally.” Then Speaker Somnath Chatterjee felt the nation should know how the elected representatives behaved in Parliament and accordingly, form their opinion about Parliamentary proceedings, parties and individual MPs.  Chatterjee therefore guided amendments in the 1994 guidelines (when the dedicated Lok Sabha TV channel was not in existence, and only Question Hours were shown on Doordarshan), which said cameras were not to focus on any interruption, disorder or walkouts.

Lok Sabha TV CEO and Editor in chief Seema Gupta told Firstpost, “We are only following the 2010 guidelines and doing nothing against the rules. If some parties and MPs feel that we should telecast disorder inside the House, they should accordingly get the guidelines amended. Till that happens, we have to follow the present norms as prescribed in the relevant books.”

The ongoing protests inside the House took a new turn on Monday when Congress MP Adhir Ranjan Choudhary stood on a stand and banged a placard on the Speaker's table when a discussion on the Delhi High Court (Amendment) Bill, 2015 had begun, amid disorderly situations. Sonia Gandhi seated in the front row, as also other party members did nothing to restrain his unruly behaviour. An anguished Speaker suspended Choudhary for the day, but it was clear that the Congress was unrepentant.

The incident raises wider ethical question for Parliamentarians: Should the floor of the House in Parliament be allowed to turn into some kind of "hartali chowk" or a Jantar Mantar (a scientific historical monument site now better known for daily dharnas)? Should MPs get hefty daily allowances for stopping others other from working? Until a dominant opinion on that count is formed and new norms formulated, Rahul with his stated resolve to have “no discussion without resignations” may bask in some glory, regardless of the fact that there are not many takers for his new-found monsoon philosophy.

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Updated Date: Jul 30, 2015 09:08:20 IST