Was breach of privilege motion against OTV justified? A ringside view

Bhubaneswar: Unable to digest the truth and face its failures, Odisha government seems to have forgotten that a free press is the central component of democracy and an attempt to chain it will only backfire.

Opposition party chief whip, Tara Prasad Bahinipati on Tuesday brought a ‘Breach of Privilege Motion’ against OTV after the channel telecast a factual report on November 19 on how Odisha Assembly Speaker Pradeep Amat adjourned the House after being prompted by the House secretary.

Soon, the Speaker directed the House secretary to issue a notice to the channel on why ‘the permission granted to the company for its entry to the premises of the OLA and direct telecast of the proceedings of the House shall not be withdrawn.’

Many believe that the Odisha government wants to spread a message of fear- ‘we can suppress you even if you have done nothing wrong’- while some see it as a sign of hidden vendetta to suppress media outlets for vested political interests.

From political leaders to journalists, many have strongly condemned the breach of privilege motion against OTV by the Odisha government.

BJP MLA Pradeep Purohit said that fearing defeat in 2019 elections; Congress and the BJD have started doing blunders one after another. Media is the fourth pillar of democracy and those who try to throttle it will definitely get ruined, he added.

“The House should have been adjourned on that day (November 19) for 30 minutes or an hour but it was adjourned till 3 PM only to save the ruling-BJD. Both the BJP and the Congress condemned the move of the Speaker. Every media house carried the news. So, where is a breach of privilege? How the same Tara Bahinipati, who criticised the Speaker over the adjournment of the House, brought a privilege motion. We will raise the issue during a discussion over the same,” said Purohit.

He further hinted at a secret understanding between Bahinipati and the BJD and said, “The ruling-BJD has used Bahinipati to get its own way. By bringing the privilege motion against OTV, Bahinipati himself exposed the unholy nexus between the Congress and the BJD in the State. It is now crystal clear that the Leader of Opposition (LoP) Narasingha Mishra is being managed by the 3rd floor.”

BJP State president Basant Panda also criticized the privilege motion moved against OTV and said, “Voice of media is being throttled. Whatever the media is seeing, it’s showing. Odisha government and the Congress have a secret nexus which is dangerous for a democracy.”

Speaking on the same, Congress MLA Naba Das said, “I don’t have any information on whether it’s the party’s decision or not. Whatever happened in the Odisha Assembly was unfortunate. We will request the Speaker in this regard so as to avoid any such incident in the future.”

Meanwhile, Congress MP Ranjib Biswal said that the party hasn’t said that the privilege motion was moved by it. An MLA of the party moved it and so, it is wrong to drag the whole party for something which a single MLA did, he stated.

“Such a move of moving privilege motion is an attempt to curtail the freedom of media. In my opinion, press should always remain independent,” he added.

On the other hand, Press Club of India president Gautam Lahiri said, “We have been noticing that the Odisha government is constantly attacking OTV. Earlier we had also condemned such move. We want the government to respect the freedom of media.”

He said Assembly proceedings are live telecast and if some news is there, it would be covered; it might go against or in favour of the government.

Expressing concerns over the issue, he further said: “If a Speaker of the House does any mistake, it is the right of media to show it to people. Besides, discussions are underway over live telecast of Standing Committee meetings and Supreme Court hearings. Democracy means transparency and if it is curtailed through any law or privilege, it will damage the democratic process.”

Press Club of India joint secretary, Sanjay Singh said any attack on the freedom of the press will undermine democracy and such attempts should be thwarted. When a government remains in power for a long time, ego engulfs it and it’s a sign of danger for the concerned ruling party, the State and democracy as a whole. Birth of ego in a party or in a minister is dangerous and it should be avoided, he added.

“The main business of an Assembly is to protect democracy and if media is attacked, it will get week. The country and the federal system that we have stand on all four pillars of the democracy and if any one of the pillars is attacked, it will never be tolerated. We condemn this move and all the regional and national media houses should protest the move,” said Singh.