M A I N   N E W S

Press across nation rallies behind The Hindu
Tribune News Service

New Delhi, November 8
The media fraternity turned up in large numbers at the Press Club of India on Saturday afternoon and demanded the withdrawal of the Tamil Nadu Speaker’s order against five senior journalists of The Hindu and the Editor of the DMK party paper, Murasoli.

Lending pen and lung power to the protest march organised by the club on Raisina Road, the journalists showed total unity to support The Hindu in its hour of crisis. Journalists, led by the club President, Prakash Patra, Secretary-General, Sanjeev Acharya, DUJ President, S.K. Pande, and General Secretary, Javed Faridi, blocked traffic on Raisina Road and burnt an effigy of Tamil Nadu Chief Minister, Jayalalithaa to show their anger. Holding placards, “Stop attack on the freedom of the Press”, they shouted slogans “Jayalalithaa Down Down, Jayalalithaa murdabad” and “Sack Jayalalithaa”. The journalists joined hands to form a human chain.

The agitation began at 3 p.m. and lasted an hour and a half. The journalists also held a meeting inside the club and passed a resolution demanding immediate action for protecting the freedom of the Press and the fundamental rights of those against whom the TN Assembly Speaker had passed the order. The club responded favourably to the suggestion that a large number of mediapersons go to the TN House on Monday afternoon to urge the TN Legislative Assembly to immediately withdraw the draconian orders handed down on Friday.

Prominent among those present at the demonstration were veteran journalists Kuldip Nayyar, H.K. Dua, S. Nihal Singh, K.K. Katyal and Mrinal Pande.

Addressing journalists from dailies and non-dailies on the Press Club lawns, Mr Kuldip Nayyar said that he had filed a petition through his counsel and former Delhi High Court Chief Justice Rajinder Sachar to the Chief Justice of India, Mr Justice V.N. Khare, in order to restore his right to freedom of speech and expression, in his capacity as a senior journalist and a habeas corpus petition to seek the release of N. Ravi, Publisher and Editor, Malini Prathasarthi.

Mr Kuldip Nayyar stressed the need to codify the privileges enjoyed by MLAs and MPs. “We will have to think of some amendments in the Constitution because the right to the freedom of speech and expression is being violated again and again. We must stand up for the onslaught on the Press, on our liberty and on our whole being,” he said.

Mr H.K. Dua, Editor-in-Chief of The Tribune, termed the harsh action against the senior journalists of The Hindu as a threat to the entire Press. “This is not just a fight between The Hindu and Jayalalithaa or between The Hindu and the TN Assembly.”

“It is a matter of shame that 56 years after Independence, a Chief Minister and Assembly of that State should take such action against one of the most important and responsible newspapers of the country. It was a right of The Hindu to write the kind of editorial it has written. I feel the Press should feel free to write such editorials. Let them face the music of the collective strength of the Press. This is not the first time that the freedom of the Press has come under threat from authority. Emergency was one threat. That was defeated by the people in the 1977 elections. Rajiv Gandhi with his massive majority of over 400 in Parliament came with the Defamation Bill but had to withdraw it despite his majority due to the united opposition of the Press.”

Referring to the Friday’s incident in The Hindu office in Chennai, Mr Dua said, “This is more blatant than the Defamation Bill to send the police to the newspaper office and look for editors in their cabins to arrest them. The entire Press of the country should rally behind The Hindu.”

Mr S. Nihal Singh said that the freedom of expression is enshrinhed in our Constitution. “We have to raise our voice and say that this kind of thing is not acceptable to us. If we don’t stand up and fight, then there will be no difference between India and Pakistan.”

Mr K.K. Katyal told mediapersons that the spontaniety of their presence proves the point on how the Press as a whole feels about the mad adventure of a despot.”

Ms Pande said that the extreme action by the Tamil Nadu government is being condemned by the Indian Women’s Press Corps.

It was also suggested that an action group, led by Mr Kuldip Nayyar, be constituted to take up the matter with the President, the Prime Minister and the Information and Broadcasting Minister.

Condemning the crackdown on the Press, the DUJ stated that it is time that the nation debates the codification of the privileges enjoyed by the MLAs and MPs. In a statement issued here on Saturday, the DUJ contested the involvement on any issue of privilege. The President of the Indian Journalist union, Mr Suresh Akhouri, has viewed the high-handedness of the Chennai police as a “serious attack on the freedom of the Press”.


Revoke order, PCI asks TN Assembly
Tribune News Service

New Delhi, November 8
The action of the Tamil Nadu Assembly’s privileges committee against journalists of The Hindu and Murasoli has come in for sharp criticism, with the Press Council of India urging it to revoke the order.

At the same time constitutional and legislative experts observed that such an extreme step should be taken only if the press imputes or maligns the House or any of its members, and should accept healthy criticism.

The Press Council of India expressed serious concern about the action of the Tamil Nadu Legislature affecting the freedom of the Press. It urged the state legislature to revoke its verdict.

The Chairman of the PCI, Justice K Jayachandra Reddy, said, “In matters like these, the authorities concerned are expected to show some restraint and be benevolent. The PCI appeals to the Legislature and the Speaker of the Tamil Nadu Assembly to revoke its verdict.”

The Privileges Committee of the state Assembly held that the editorial and articles published in The Hindu were written in a manner causing breach of privilege of the action of the Assembly Speaker and in the primary process imputing ulterior motives to the House as a whole. The House sentenced six journalists to 15 days simple imprisonment.

The state police last night raided the premises of the 125-year-old newspaper and the residence of the journalists.

Taking exception to the state Assembly’s action, Justice Reddy stated that there should be a larger debate on the powers of the Legislature even though the Assembly is supreme in its own right.

When asked about the PCI’s inability in taking a categorical stand against the verdict, Justice Reddy said the PCI Act does not provide it with such sweeping powers.

The President of the Editors Guild of India, Mr Hari Jaisingh, termed it as a politically motivated action, which is anti-democratic and brings back the days of Emergency.

He said "privileges are not absolute" for legislature or the media. Mr Jaisingh said "there was nothing in the editorial or in the article which breached the privileges of the House."

Former Lok Sabha Secretary General Subhash C. Kashyap said while taking action against any person for privilege of the House, the legislature would have to differentiate between the imputation and malign of the House or any of its members and healthy criticism. The Press has a right under the Constitution to criticise the action of the legislature even in strongest possible terms if it is not malafide, maligning the House and the legislators and aimed at obstructing their functioning, he observed.

"The general rule on the privilege of the House is that it shall not be a party affair. While taking contempt action against any person or representative of media, the legislature has to be careful that its action should not be seen as a part of fight between the ruling party and the Opposition or getting political mileage out of it," Mr Kashyap added.

Constitutional expert P.P. Rao observed that "this extreme step does not appear to be warranted. The legislature should reconsider its decision in the interest of democracy and withdraw the warrants forthwith." He said any democracy thrives by free expression of opinion. So tolerance was required and more so on the part of the legislature which represents the people.

Condemning the state assembly’s action, legal expert A.M. Singhvi said the write-up in the newspaper did not in any way hinder the functioning of the House and such an action by the legislature was unwarranted.

Deploring the Assembly’s action, the All-India Newspaper Editors Conference president Vishwa Bandhu Gupta said "this is a direct attack on the freedom of the Press and democracy. We appeal to the Chief Minister and state assembly to reconsider their decision and respect the freedom of the Press in the country."


SC to hear plea tomorrow
Tribune News Service

New Delhi, November 8
The Supreme Court today fixed for Monday hearing on the petition filed by five senior journalists of The Hindu newspaper seeking stay of arrest warrants issued against them by the Tamil Nadu Speaker in the breach of privilege and contempt case.

When the matter was mentioned before Justice R.C. Lahoti, he fixed it for hearing on Monday.

The matter is listed for hearing before a Bench comprising Justice Y.K. Sabharwal and Justice S.B. Sinha.

The five journalists have challenged the Tamil Nadu Assembly decision to impose prison sentences on them for breach of privilege of the House and sought a stay on their arrest. 

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