In what is being seen as a move to clamp down on media, Karnataka speaker Vishveshwar Kageri has banned private cameras inside the assembly. Starting from the winter session of the Karnataka assembly starting Thursday, output for the assembly proceedings will be shot and transmitted via satellite link by Doordarshan Kendra in Bengaluru. An order issued by the speaker's office stated that while the visuals of the assembly proceedings will be provided by the state-run Doordarshan, the photographs of the same will be provided by the information department. Journalists will be allowed to observe and report from the press gallery but carrying mobile phones and tablets to the same is now prohibited.
In Karnataka, during Ramesh Kumar’s first stint as Assembly speaker in 1994, private cameras were allowed in the assembly. Since then, while there have been multiple attempts to curb media freedom inside the assembly, there has been no ban on photography and videography by accredited journalists inside the assembly.
In 2012, Laxman Savadi who is one of the deputy chief ministers had been captured by a camera of a Kannada private news channel, watching pornographic videos along with his cabinet colleague CC Patil. After widespread outrage, both had resigned from their positions but there was an attempt by the then speaker too to bring in restrictions on the entry of private cameras inside the assembly.
Reacting sharply to this development, opposition leaders have censured the BJP government in the state, calling the move ‘draconian’ in nature. Former chief minister Siddaramiah said, ‘In a democracy, elected representatives have to be transparent and so should the assembly proceedings. We go to the assembly to discuss issues of our citizens then is it not important for them to learn what happens there?’
Other Congress leaders too criticised the speaker's decision. Former Dy Cm G Parameshwara said, ‘In 2008, there were some unpleasant incidents and the government might fear it’s repeat. There were proposals for a media gag even during our tenure but we did not proceed with it’.
The JDS also joined its former ally in locking horns with the BJP government. Former CM HD Kumaraswamy questioned who is behind this decision of the speaker and also said that he will broach this issue on the floor of assembly.
Ironically, when Mr Kumaraswamy was the chief minister, he had a chequered relationship with media and had repeatedly threatened to stifle media freedom. Claiming that electronic media in the state, in particular, often indulge in ‘irresponsible reporting’, Kumaraswamy had mulled bringing in restrictions of movement of journalists inside state secretariat Vidhana Soudha and also deliberated bringing in laws to place stringent stipulations on media.
When confronted with questions on Speaker Kageri’s decision on media gag, CM BS Yediyurappa said he will hold detailed discussions on the same on Wednesday evening with his cabinet before deciding the government’s stand on the issue. Union minister and former Karnataka Chief Minister DV Sadananda Gowda refused to comment on the gag order saying he will not opine on issues relating to the state government.