Recently, when the Members of Parliament (MPs) of the Opposition parties delivered their speeches during the ‘no-confidence motion’ against the Modi Government in Lok Sabha, the tax-payer-funded Sansad TV’s camerapersons and co-ordinators focussed on the Speaker of the House Om Birla’s chair, instead of the Opposition.
When Rahul Gandhi, one of the most popular leaders of the Opposition and a feasible contender for the Prime Minister’s chair in the next Lok Sabha election, delivered his speech rounding up the incumbent Mo-Shah government for its misgovernance in Manipur, the Sansad TV camera persons and their operators bizarrely focused on the Speaker’s chair for nearly 60% of the time. Other opposition leaders like veteran MP Mallikarjunan Kharge and Farooq Abdullah faced similar censorship too.
During Gandhi’s 37-minute-long discourse, Sansad TV kept the camera on him for just 14 minutes and focused on the Speaker and the treasury bench (where the ruling party sat) for the rest of the time. However, when the ruling party MP Smriti Irani delivered her speech, the camerapersons put her under the spotlight during 90% of her parliamentary address.
When asked about his opinion on the disproportionate footage during his speech in the Lok Sabha, Rahul Gandhi contemplated that PM Modi did not want his face to reach the masses via Sansad TV. He said, “I said what I wanted to say (during the No-confidence motion) and did my job. They (the Modi government) control the TV media, Lok Sabha TV and Rajya Sabha TV. I can’t do much about it.”
While Gaurav Gogoi, another Opposition MP, was delivering a 20-minute-long speech bashing the Mo-Shah government’s perceived indifference to Manipur and raised three questions based on the same, the Sansad TV advertised the government’s success in schemes that had no nexus with the affairs of the House.
The ticker at the bottom of the live broadcasting screen read, “India comes second in ayurvedic and herbal medicine exports; second in export of alternative medicine; India now has the second largest road network in the world, after the USA; 400 Vande Bharat trains to be manufactured; PMGKAY becomes largest food security initiative by feeding over 80 crore citizens since March 2020; India is the second largest fish producing country; Jal Jeevan mission is world’s biggest drinking water supply programme.”
When the Opposition raised this issue, Speaker Om Birla said, “Since you have brought the matter to my notice, I will look into it… I have asked the relevant team, and it will get stopped in a few moments. I don’t have the button to stop the ticket.
Cat and Mouse game between Opposition placards and the Sansad TV camerapersons.
‘Opposition censorship’ had begun long before the no-confidence motion passed in the House. When Home Minister Amit Shah delivered a speech in the Lok Sabha on the ‘Delhi Ordinance Bill,’ the Opposition seized the opportunity to express discontentment against the violence in Manipur.
Whenever the camera focused on Amit Shah or the Speaker, the Opposition raised placards in front of the camera that read, “India for Manipur.” Immediately, the camerapersons switched to a different angle to keep the placards out of view. In a ridiculous series of events, the camera footage switched over 14 times in just two minutes!
Usually, the proceedings inside the Parliament get broadcasted through the lens of camera persons sitting at different positions offering different frames with a mixer coordinating all the footage during the broadcast.
The partisanship and bias against the Opposition by the privately owned TV Media can get understood if not appreciated. But what is the compulsion behind the publicly owned Sansad TV to do the same?
When the Prime Minister delivers a long speech inside the Parliament, which has become rare, to say the least, the camera doesn’t even flinch even when he attacks the Opposition. Then why does this authority deprive the Opposition of exercising a similar command during their dissent?
While the spotlight stayed entirely on the Prime Minister during his speech, not once did the cameraperson of the Sansad TV show his empty chair during his previously unattended proceedings.
The former President of the United States had once rightly commented, “Once a government is committed to the principle of silencing the voice of opposition, it has only one way to go, and that is down the path of increasingly repressive measures until it becomes a source of terror to all its citizens and creates a country where everyone lives in fear.“
Today, India, the world’s largest democracy, must connect the dots and be wary of the precarious pattern that unfolds. Television media channels had long given up on voicing the voiceless, and publicly funded institutions like Sansad TV and All India Radio remain the last resort.
Hence, to safeguard India’s diversity and democracy, the voice of the Opposition should not get shunned as ‘hindrances’ or ‘distractions,’ we must realise that the demand for accountability from the ruling party is inasmuch of the national interest as the Opposition’s interest.