A day after Karnataka Assembly speaker passed an order banning private cameras inside the assembly, a delegation of journalists met with the Speaker to submit a memorandum urging him to reconsider his decision. Close to 20 journalists-print and electronic-met with speaker Vishveshwar Kageri for 15 minutes, trying to impress upon him that the ban is a catastrophe for freedom of the press and he should have, at the very least, held consultations with journalists before passing the controversial order. The memorandum that had signatures from around 50 journalists working both in regional and national news platforms stated, ‘the smooth functioning of our democracy requires that its four pillars – the Legislature, Executive, Judiciary, and the Press – are allowed to function independently, without one impinging on the rights of the other. In this case, we feel this decision impinges on our right to inform the public’.
The memorandum that was submitted to Speaker Kageri further read, ‘we also express our apprehension that this will act as a precedent for taking unilateral decisions. Hence, we strongly condemn the order issued by you and urge you to reconsider your decision in the interests of the public of this state’. While the speaker heard the concerns raised by the delegation, he reportedly refused, point blank, to revoke the order. Claiming that this is being attempted on a pilot-basis during the three-day winter session of the assembly, Kageri yielded saying that the ban could possibly be revisited after the ongoing assembly session.
Journalists who were part of the delegation found the speaker’s attitude obstinate and undemocratic. An editor working with a national news channel, Jayaprakash Ramiah, speaking to Republic said, ‘When we met the speaker he was not forthcoming and even before we could convey our points to him, he tried to impose his on us. He said he wants to bring in the system in parliament but that is not applicable here. While he is the head of the house, we are talking of the fourth estate here. Overnight, unilateral decisions should not be made’. Yasir Mushtaq, senior broadcast journalist, who was part of the delegation said, ‘the speaker said he will weigh the pros and cons of his order during this assembly session and take a final call later. We wanted him to withdraw the order immediately so we can function without problems but he refused to. He wasn't able to clearly explain why he imposed this ban’.
While the opposition party leaders have been lambasting against the speaker for the order they call draconian, there has been a stoic silence by legislators and ministers of the ruling BJP. the chief minister who had tweeted in support of journalists saying, ‘My government is always committed to freedom of media. I will make a sincere effort and request speaker Vishweshwara Hegde Kageri to reconsider his decision on barring media from telecasting the house proceedings (SIC)’. Soon after the above tweet appeared from the handle of CM BS Yediyurappa, it was deleted without any further explanation. Sources in the Karnataka government told Republic that the speaker had taken umbrage at this open contradiction and had urged all legislators of the ruling party not to belie the line taken by him in public.
After the dialogue with the speaker yielded no favourable results, journalists have decided to stage a protest near the Kengal Hanumanthaiah statue in Vidhana Soudha at 9 am on Friday. Demanding that the speaker should revoke his ban with immediate effect, journalists are also mulling boycott of coverage of the assembly proceeding in the future.
Leaders of the opposition have been vocal against the speaker’s orders since they were passed on Wednesday and have assured journalists that they will extend their full support to their protest. Senior leaders like former chief minister Siddaramiah, former speaker Ramesh Kumar and senior Congress leader RV Deshpande are expected to be in attendance at the journalists’ protest on Friday.