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Full text of Speaker's statement

The following is the text of the statement by the Tamil Nadu Legislative Assembly Speaker, K. Kalimuthu:

In all the din created by the media in the wake of the resolutions passed by the Tamil Nadu Legislative Assembly on the Breach of Privilege committed by the Editor, Executive Editor, Publisher, Chief of Bureau and Article Writer, and Special Correspondent of The Hindu and the Editor - Publisher of Murasoli, a deliberate attempt is being made by those sentenced to mobilise support through political parties and other sections of the media to portray the Breach of Privilege and the consequent action of the Tamil Nadu Legislative Assembly as being scripted by the Hon'ble Chief Minister Selvi J. Jayalalithaa. This itself reflects a desperate attempt by those sentenced to extricate themselves by totally distorting the facts in a crude attempt to mobilise media support and support of some political parties who would like to fish in troubled waters for their gain.

Since this is a matter of great public importance touching the rights of a hallowed institution like the Legislative Assembly, it is extremely essential that the right facts connected with this issue are set out clearly so that the public, who through the electoral process have reposed faith in the Legislative Assembly, are not misled.

In the first place, it is the intention of the framers of the Constitution to ensure that the Legislative Assembly is able to function in an independent and free manner. Article 194 of the Constitution clearly sets out the powers, privileges and immunities of a House of the Legislature of a State, and of the Members and Committees of a House of such Legislature. This is to ensure that members of the House can voice their opinion on issues with absolute freedom. This cannot be obstructed by distorted reporting by the media. When the functioning of the House of the Legislature is thus obstructed, the privileges of the House as a whole are affected and its very functioning jeopardised. It is the normal procedure for the House of the Legislature to refer such infractions to the Committee of Privileges of the House to go into all the facts in detail and make its recommendations to the House.

The Committee of Privileges of the Tamil Nadu Legislature Assembly is an elected Committee including representatives of the Opposition. In this case, the Committee has met on several occasions, namely 5-5-2003, 12-5-2003, 1-10-2003, 14-10-2003, 27-10-2003 and 6-11-2003, before making its final recommendations. It can thus be seen that detailed deliberations have been held on these dates and detailed proceedings have been drawn up. These recommendations of the Committee of Privileges have thus been reached after careful consideration. Both The Hindu and Murasoli have been given adequate opportunity. They have filed written submissions. The Hindu has given a 16-page written submission going into all aspects of their defence. The Committee of Privileges has gone into these written submissions point by point in great detail and only thereafter reached its conclusions and recommendations.

In a desperate attempt to mislead the public, the media reports have completely mixed up the three separate issues of Breach of Privilege relating to the Media considered by the Committee of Privileges of the Tamil Nadu Legislative Assembly. The first issue of Breach of Privilege relates to the blatant attempt to influence the conduct of an important member of the House, namely, the Honourable Chief Minister, within the Assembly by the use of all kinds of abusive and intemperate language while the Honourable Chief Minister was discharging her duties in the House. This constituted undoubtedly a gross Breach of Privilege and Contempt of the House as a whole. It should be noted that such an attack on an important member of the House while discharging duties in the House, constitutes an attack on the whole House, amounts to obstructing its proceedings and without doubt affects the independent functioning of the House. The Committee of Privileges after going into all aspects of the issue came to the conclusion that the reporting in a distorted manner by The Hindu in its issues dated 12-4-2003, 13-4-2003 and 23-4-2003, on the interventions made by the Honourable Chief Minister while replying to the debate in the House clearly constituted a gross Breach of Privilege and Contempt of the House. Therefore, the Committee recommended 7 days simple imprisonment for the Editor, Executive Editor, Publisher, Chief of Bureau and Article Writer and Special Correspondent of The Hindu only.

The Legislative Assembly was considering this recommendation in this report on 7-11-2003. At this juncture, when the Resolution came up for a decision before the House, the Honourable Chief Minister magnanimously suggested that the House pardon them as these offences related to her functioning in the Assembly. The House considered the request of the Honourable Chief Minister and dropped the punishment. The media reports are now attempting to distort the whole issue by indicating that these offences were the ones for which the punishment was imposed. This is totally incorrect. In fact, it needs to be clarified that even in the first instance, when the issue came up in the Assembly in April 2003, it was I, who as the Speaker of the House, suo motu referred the matter to the Committee of Privileges under Rule 226 of the Tamil Nadu Legislative Assembly Rules. The Honourable Chief Minister did not make any request to me as the Speaker of the House or to the House to refer these matters to the Committee of Privileges.

The next issue relates to the Editorial in The Hindu dated 25-4-2003. In this case, I, as the Speaker of the Tamil Nadu Legislative Assembly, suo motu referred the matter to the Committee of Privileges. Here again, the Hon'ble Chief Minister did not make any request to me, as the Speaker of the House, or to the House suggesting reference of this matter to the Committee of Privileges.

After detailed consideration and after taking note of the written representation of The Hindu and Murasoli, the Committee of Privileges made its final recommendations on 6-11-2003. This was considered by the Tamil Nadu Legislative Assembly on 7-11-2003. The contents of the Editorial published by The Hindu on 25-4-2003 shake the very foundation of the Legislature which is the cornerstone of a democracy. It has pre-judged the proceedings of the Committee of Privileges even when the issue was pending before the Committee of Privileges. This is undoubtedly casting aspersions on the integrity of the Committee and the House. The editorial has also gone into detail at length indicating how the Committee of Privileges should deal with this particular matter and virtually indicated the conclusions, when the matter itself was under the consideration of the Committee. The editorial has also cast a slur on my action as the Speaker of the House in referring the matter to the Committee of Privileges. It also amounted to a threat to the Committee and the House to force it to decide in favour of the newspaper.

After careful consideration, the Committee of Privileges has concluded that this editorial published on 25-4-2003 affects the entire functioning of the House. This constitutes gross Breach of Privilege and Contempt of the House. For this offence, the Committee of Privileges has recommended 15 days simple imprisonment. The Legislative Assembly after due consideration accepted the report and awarded the punishment of 15 days simple imprisonment. The Hon'ble Chief Minister had absolutely no part individually in this decision. Likewise, the same offence was repeated by Murasoli on 26-4-2003 by publishing the translation of the editorial in The Hindu. Based on the report of the Committee of Privileges, a similar punishment was imposed by the Tamil Nadu Legislative Assembly.

When these are the real facts, namely, that the punishment imposed by the Tamil Nadu Legislative Assembly is solely on account of the Breach of Privilege and gross Contempt of the House, committed by The Hindu through its editorial dated 25-4-2003 and also the Murasoli by publishing the same on 26-4-2003, the media is whipping up totally unwarranted personal campaign against the Hon'ble Chief Minister Selvi J. Jayalaithaa. It should be noted once again that in the attack by The Hindu on her functioning in the House, for which the Committee of Privileges recommended 7 days simple imprisonment, she had graciously suggested that no punishment be imposed and the House accepted the same.

Article 194 of the Constitution is very clear. A House of the Legislature has to be enabled to function in a free and independent manner. Its privileges, powers and immunities have to be protected to secure this. This resolution of the Tamil Nadu Legislative Assembly is only to protect its independent functioning and there cannot be any obstruction to its functioning. The powers, privileges and immunities under Art. 194 of the Constitution are to secure this independent functioning and cannot in any way be abrogated by the Press in an attempt to obtain to itself the role of ultimate arbiter. The ultimate test is public welfare and common good. In a democracy, people vote for a Legislature to secure them these guarantees. Article 194 of the Constitution is specifically enshrined to ensure that a Legislature can function in a free and independent manner to secure for the people these guarantees. The functioning of the Legislature cannot be obstructed by the Press which has no such separate rights in the Constitution such as those enumerated in Article 194 of the Constitutions.

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