New Delhi, Feb. 18: Breaking news at 7:08pm: Congress minister Rajeev Shukla says Speaker’s decision to black out Lok Sabha TV during the debate on Telangana bill is justified.
Breaking news at 7:22pm: Lok Sabha TV in an official press release blames a technical glitch for blackout of Parliament session; LS secretary-general orders probe.
These contradictory news breaks on TV news channels set off a flurry of comments both outside Parliament and on Twitter today.
“We strongly condemn the black out of the proceedings of Lok Sabha. It was done without our knowledge,” tweeted BJP’s Sushma Swaraj.
“They say that the black out of Lok Sabha was due to a ‘technical glitch’. No. It was a tactical glitch. I will raise this matter with the Speaker tomorrow.”
She complained that the Lok Sabha secretariat was not providing her the audio or video recording of her speech today on the Telangana bill.
However, junior parliamentary affairs minister Shukla, oblivious to a Lok Sabha press release, justified the Speaker’s decision to block coverage of the session.
“The government had no intention to keep anything behind closed doors. Whenever there is a ruckus in Parliament, the Chair takes a call to stop the telecast. The media gallery was open and nothing was done behind closed doors,” he said.
Union foreign minister Salman Khurshid hit back at Sushma, saying she had agreed to the Speaker’s decision. He said: “Leader of Opposition was in the House, was party to the decision, why cry over spilt milk?”
Trinamul MP Dinesh Trivedi was most vocal about the blackout. “I don’t know under whose instructions live TV was blacked out, somebody needs to answer. Blacking out Lok Sabha telecast is as bad as the Emergency. The spirit of democracy has been killed,” he said.
Parliament sessions began to be televised in 2006 with the birth of Lok Sabha TV. A 24-hour channel broadcasting in Hindi and English, it is owned and operated entirely by the Lok Sabha. Its mandate is to broadcast live Lok Sabha proceedings and cultural and educational programs and panel discussions when the House is not in session.
According to the Lok Sabha secretariat, the channel has registered a growth of over 300 per cent in viewership in the first quarter of 2012-2013.
Déjà vu for media
As Lok Sabha TV today went on the blink, the ticker scrolling across the screen first said “House Adjourned” even as discussions were on. A while later, it said “Live from Lok Sabha shortly” but proceedings never went live till the bill was passed and the House adjourned.
For many journalists, it was a throwback to olden days when TV anchors had to bank on reporters in the press gallery for inputs on House proceedings.
Senior TV journalist Shiv Aroor tweeted: “By stopping the live broadcast of Lok Sabha proceedings, Meira Kumar demonstrates that the Indira-like impulse to suppress is alive and well.”
“Is “technical glitch” the new Pepper Spray?! Weapon of Mass Deception?” tweeted TV anchor Barkha Dutt.
Adman and columnist Suhel Seth tweeted: “India’s temple of democracy desecrated by its own guardians!… On one December morning India’s Parliament was attacked from the outside! Today it has been attacked from within!! Shame!”
Perhaps, the last word on the blackout went to BJD MP Baijant Jay Panda, who replaced his Twitter profile picture with a black-and-white television set.
“Sad that the aspirations of the ppl of Telangana require the suppression of parliamentary norms. Will have repercussions on our democracy,” he tweeted.
In a press release, the Lok Sabha secretariat said: “The proceedings of the Lok Sabha could not be telecast live by Lok Sabha Television due to technical problems when the House assembled at 15-00 hrs today. The CEO LSTV is probing into it.”