The Telegraph
Since 1st March, 1999
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Speaker and media in war of words

Chennai, Nov. 9: Protests against the Assembly’s sentencing of six senior journalists intensified today, prompting the Speaker to charge the media with “whipping up a totally unwarranted personal campaign against the Tamil Nadu chief minister”.

Nearly 500 journalists wearing black badges went on a day’s fast near the Madras Press Club against the House decision to send five senior journalists of The Hindu and one of DMK mouthpiece Murasoli to 15 days in jail and the subsequent high-handed behaviour of police personnel.

The sentence, for a “gross act of contempt and breach of privilege of the House”, followed an editorial titled Rising Intolerance on proceedings in the Assembly published by The Hindu on April 25. A translated version of the editorial was published by the DMK organ.

The protesters, including editors of Tamil journals and people from television news channels, went on the fast — despite police denying permission — to urge the government to convene the Assembly and immediately revoke its November 7 privilege resolutions.

Politicians cutting across party barriers, barring those of the ADMK of chief minister Jayalalithaa, condemned the privilege decision against The Hindu and the Murasoli. Union information and broadcasting minister Ravi Shankar Prasad said he would request the Speaker to revoke the decision to arrest the journalists.

MDMK leader Vaiko observed a fast in Vellore prison, while Indian Newspaper Society president Veerendra Kumar told the fasting journalists that “the Indian newspaper world is totally united in this battle”.

Speaker K. Kalimuthu, however, categorically denied that the proceedings of the privilege committee and the subsequent action of the Assembly against the journalists had been scripted by Jayalalithaa.

Kalimuthu pointed out that he, as Speaker, had suo motu referred the matter to the panel, adding that the ADMK chief did not play a part even in recommending imprisonment for the journalists.

The Speaker explained that the resolution was aimed at protecting the Assembly’s “independent functioning”. The “powers, privileges and immunities under Article 194 of the Constitution are to secure this independent functioning and cannot in any way be abrogated by the press in an attempt to obtain to itself the role of ultimate arbiter”, he said.

The explanation did not wash with The Hindu editor-in-chief . Ram, visibly agitated by Tamil Nadu police, looking for Hindu staffers, chasing his car in Bangalore. Ram was returning, with his brother . Murali and their wives, from the 125th anniversary celebrations of the publication in Bangalore.

Police personnel blocked their car, Ram told the fasting journalists. “They tried to open the door and, after they saw my face, lost interest.” He said the police were looking for the newspaper’s editor and had even snatched the key from the driver.

The veteran journalist said Chennai police commissioner K. Vijayakumar and other senior officials of the Tamil Nadu administration “had to answer” for the Bangalore incident. The commissioner should resign if he cannot discharge his duty in accordance with the law, Ram said.

The Hindu editor-in-chief said even today his house was being watched by plainclothes policemen, who wrongly believed executive editor Malini Parthasarathy “is hiding in my house”.

“We have information that state police are under terrific pressure to produce somebody or the other (from among the five staffers sentenced) and lodge at least some of them in jail for a day or two,” before The Hindu petition seeking a stay on the arrests comes up before the Supreme Court tomorrow, he said.

Ram said he had also spoken to deputy Prime Minister L.K. Advani, who had expressed anguish at the development. The Hindu would compile the happenings of the last two days and send a report to the home ministry in response to Union minister of state I.D. Swami’s reported remarks that the Centre would take up the matter with the Tamil Nadu government, he said.

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