news Saturday, July 04, 2015 - 05:30
  On Wednesday, the Tamil Nadu government told the Madras High Court that it will not be able to live-telecast the proceedings of the state assembly because the government does not have the money to do so. The practice at the TN Assembly now is that the State Films Division records the proceedings of the assembly and releases tapes to the media when required, and only of select footage. No private TV channel cameras are allowed inside the assembly. There are state assemblies in India which beam proceedings live. The practice in the Andhra Pradesh Assembly was to provide a live-feed to TV channels from inside the assembly, where the government has set up cameras to record the proceedings. In Karnataka, private channels are allowed inside to record proceedings. The Tamil Nadu government has set to make this about funding. The political opposition in the state has contested the government’s argument. In fact, the DMDK has reportedly even offered to provide live coverage of the assembly for free on the party channel Captain TV. The unwillingness of the government to provide live-telecast is evident in the different excuse it has been offering since the case was first admitted after a PIL filed by D Jagadheeshwaran of the Lok Satta party. In 2012, the government’s counsel had argued that since the PIL was filed by a member of a political party, it was not maintainable. They also argued that the judiciary cannot dictate the Speaker’s pejoratives. Now, they say they do not have the funds. What this is really about is stifling democracy and wanting to control the information flow on what happens inside the assembly to manage the perception of the ruling government. The controversy in Tamil Nadu is now at the risk of becoming a quarrel between political parties, when the reality is that every political party, specifically the DMK and the ADMK, wants to control the information economy in the state. It is evident from the fact that each political party has its own private TV channel. When a particular party is in power, preference is given to the TV channel owned by the political party, and the messaging is, obviously, tailored to the needs of the political party in power. Political parties are also known to allow only select journalists to enter the premises for reportage. No political party in power, be it the ADMK or DMK, wants proceedings to be beamed live. At times, the proceedings can be exceedingly undemocratic, with members of the opposition being dragged out for speaking out against the ruling party. Ruling parties do not want unflattering utterances about them to be aired. They can exert phenomenal influence on legislative sessions, and that is often so obvious that leaders know that live-streaming would lead to public criticism. It is because they do not want to be ridiculed in public that what happens within the assembly is kept inaccessible. Legislation is the core-function of a representative democracy and keeping it away from the public glare, and attempting to shut down criticism of the process strikes at the heart of our democracy. As the PIL states, every citizen has the right to know what happens in the state. It is the duty of the state to use available technology to disseminate the discourse within the assembly. Among citizens, there is increasing awareness of the importance of legislation and public policy for improving governance. Political parties should come together to establish a process, like using DD Podhigai to telecast assembly proceedings, or even contracting it out to a private TV news channels to telecast the proceedings at a transparent and nominal cost. At the very least, like it was done in the AP assembly, the state must give the option for private TV channels to draw out live visual-feeds from within the assembly.