Drought, farmer suicides, the state budget all took a backseat on Wednesday as legislators in both Houses, cutting across party lines, indulged in an afternoon of media-bashing. Their anger was directed mainly towards local television channels who they allege are “tarnishing” their image in the mad scramble for TRP ratings. Even a legislature committee to decide on ‘curbs’ for the media is in the offing. Is this an excuse for our politicos to cover up their misdoings by gagging the press, asks Team DC.
The electronic media came in for a bashing in the Legislative Assembly on Wednesday with legislators cutting across party lines venting their ire on it for coverage that "hurt their image."
Coming close on the heels of reports of Speaker K B Koliwad’s children acquiring sites from the Karnataka Legislature Secretariat Employees Housing Cooperative Society and his spirited denial of any wrongdoing, in the House, the media bashing saw JD(S) member, Sa Ra Mahesh even urge the government to step in and allow only “experienced journalists" to cover “serious subjects.”
Leading the onslaught, Karnataka Janata Party member, B.R. Patil protested that the electronic media's portrayal of legislators and ministers was damaging to their reputations.
Recalling his own experience, he said although he had decided to vote for the Congress during the last election to the Rajya Sabha owing to his old friendship with Chief Minister Siddaramaiah, the media alleged his vote had been bought. The presence of some visitors from Delhi in his room in the Legislators' Home had been misread, he claimed. “All we did was have tea and those present in my room included reputed senior journalist, B R Srikanth, who is my old friend,” he maintained.
Also, objecting to television channels showing legislators and ministers dozing off during legislature sessions, he declared, “We are only human and could have been touring our constituencies before coming to the session. Being tired we may have dozed off. But this does not happen all the time.”
While Speaker Koliwad wanted to know if the debate was confined only to the electronic media or included the print media as well, Sarvodaya Party member, K S Puttannaiah blamed the electronic media for the story of a crow sitting on the Chief Minister's car that had forced him to change the car itself.
Other legislators like Suresh Gowda of the BJP, who was involved in a scuffle with toll gate staff, Raju Kage of the BJP, who has an attempt to murder case booked against him, and Narendra Swamy (independant) and Shivaraj Tangadagi of the Congress, who have also been involved in controversies, claimed they were victimized by the electronic media.
Demanding a minimum qualification for journalists, Mr Sa Ra Mahesh said a videographer of weddings in his constituency was now in-charge of a television channel. “Another man, who was a nobody in Mysuru two decades ago, is also running a television channel today. How can you expect professionalism from such people?'' he asked.
‘Television journalists think they know everything’
If the Assembly saw MLAs lash out at the media, members of the Legislative Council were equally vociferous in their attack on it on Wednesday, some making even strident demands for a legislation to regulate 24x7 news channels.
BJP member Tara Anuradha, who initiated the media debate under rule 330 in the House, objected to channels delving into people’s personal lives. “News channels must have some regulatory measures in place. They cannot do as they please merely for TRP ratings,” she said, urging the government to bring in a legislation to regulate them.
Mr V.S. Ugrappa of the Congress lashed out at 24x7 Kannada news channels for “tarnishing the image of politicians and MLAs.” “Television journalists seem to think they know everything under the sun and refer to ministers and the Chief Minister in singular terms. But they are mum on corruption in media houses,” he charged.
Claiming that a few print journalists were mentioned by former Lokayukta, Justice Santhosh Hegde in his report on illegal mining, he said, “Even they (the journalists) have built palace-like houses and have posh cars, but the media is mum about such corruption and misuse of power.”
The Congress leader advised the government to constitute a committee to regulate television channels and suggested it should be authorised to summon or issue notices to media houses. The committee must be made up of a veteran journalist, a senior police officer, social activists and advocates, in his view.
Health and Family Welfare Minister, Ramesh Kumar blamed both electronic and print journalists for “tarnishing his image.” Claiming that a 24x7 news channel which had falsely accused him of grabbing forest land didn’t give him a chance to make a rebuttal, he said, “Television anchors act like judges. The House should dedicate more time to discuss the issue and we will come prepared.”
In a written reply. Home Minister, Dr. G. Parameshwar said a state committee to look into the content of Cable TV networks had issued a notice to Zee Kannada over its serial, Anjali and Ganga and a notice to Star Suvarna for its serial, Neeli which had children playing the role of ghosts and evil spirits. But as the channels did not respond to the notices , the committee had decided to take stringent action against them.
Media has right to expose netas’ shortcomings: Justice Santosh Hegde, former Lokayukta
“Legislators don't enjoy special powers to frame any rules to protect themselves. The Legislative Assembly cannot lay down any rules to rein in the media. But if they feel that any journalist or channel is responsible for breach of privilege, it can refer the matter to the privileges committee. Otherwise, legislators are just like anyone else. The media has the right to expose any lacunae in the judiciary, executive or legislature and these three institutions cannot become oversensitive to this and trample on freedom of expression. If they have a grouse, they can move the court against the media. By constituting a House committee to regulate functioning of media, the legislators are only trying to protect themselves.