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Leash on media to keep MPs from talking

New Delhi, April 11: If you can’t stop MPs from speaking to reporters, stop reporters from speaking to MPs.

The Lok Sabha secretariat has come up with guidelines apparently aimed at keeping the functioning of parliamentary committees from media glare by curbing the movement of journalists on House premises.

House committee meetings are supposed to be confidential but things have dramatically changed over the past few months with the media getting more inquisitive and MPs more open.

So the Lok Sabha’s press and public relations wing has now asked media personnel “to not move or stand outside the committee rooms in (the) Parliament House Complex when meetings of parliamentary committees are held therein”.

The circular also pointed out that parliamentary committee meetings were not open to media coverage.

Of late, however, some chairpersons of parliamentary committees, including the Public Accounts Committee (PAC), have been holding formal media briefings on a regular basis.

Some standing committee members have even sent formal media releases after the so-called “confidential” meetings.

A case in point was the Lokpal-related meetings of the standing committee on law and justice which could almost be described as open sessions.

But MPs can’t be stopped from speaking to the media. Hence the decision to keep reporters out of bounds.

The circular says journalists may attend media conferences by chairpersons of House committees whenever specific advisories are issued as desired by the chairperson concerned.

When PAC chairperson Murli Manohar Joshi started holding regular briefings on the 2G sessions, many old-timers had raised eyebrows, saying such interactions were “completely undesirable”.

The secretariat has, through a separate circular, issued 10 guidelines for representatives of the electronic media and still photographers. These guidelines prohibit them from interacting, interviewing or photographing anyone other than ministers and MPs on the Parliament House premises “without explicit permission from the press and public relations wing”.

The plan is to black out interviews and photographs of celebrities who visit Parliament to attend sittings of the two Houses or meetings of parliamentary committees.

The first test of the new guidelines will be on April 20 when the three chiefs of the armed forces are scheduled to depose before the standing committee on defence.

The huge media presence during the deposition of high-profile public relations boss Niira Radia in the 2G case had caused some problems.

Other guidelines are aimed at disciplining photographers who often crowd around ministers, MPs and celebrities, obstructing easy movement.

The circular says MPs can be interviewed only at the two media stands on the lawns outside the building’s Gate Nos. 4 and 12.

Guidelines have also been issued to restrict photographers from roaming freely on the House premises.