The Tamil Nadu Assembly is seeing chaos, but nothing it hasn’t seen before.

Live-telecast of TN Assembly A long-standing democratic demand which is overdueMK Stalin at DMK's protest on August 19
Voices Opinion Friday, August 19, 2016 - 18:40

Across India, state assemblies have been reduced to wrestling arenas where legislative business is a process where the ruling party pushed through whatever it wants, and the opposition registers its protest by shouting, throwing chairs and mics at opponents, watching porn, and well, politicians generally behaving like hooligans.

It is no surprise that at the Tamil Nadu assembly, irrespective of who is in power, the Dravidian parties have accorded little respect the members of the opposition. During the AIADMK regime, it only gets worse.

The latest episode in the Assembly drama is the suspension and eviction of 80 DMK MLAs, with MK Stalin being physically carried out by the marshals.

In the heated debate and discussion which has followed, Stalin has called for what has been a democratic demand for several years, that the proceedings of the assembly be telecast live on the state-run TV channel.

This isn’t the first time this debate has cropped up.

In July 2015, 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 given the excuse of lack of funding. The political opposition in the state has contested the government’s argument. In fact, last year, the DMDK had 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 excuses it has been offering since a 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. In July 2015, they said they did not have the funds.

This is really about stifling democracy and wanting to control the information flow on what happens inside the assembly to manage the perception of the ruling government.

This controversy has always ended up becoming a quarrel between political parties, when the reality is that every political party, specifically the DMK and the AIADMK, wants to control the flow of information.

That 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 or linked to 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, be it the AIADMK or DMK, wants proceedings to be beamed live when they are in power.

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 the legislative process, 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 filed in this matter 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 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.

Note: The views expressed here are the personal opinions of the author.

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