Mumbai journalists for codification of privileges

MUMBAI NOV. 10. Journalists in the city joined their counterparts in the rest of the country today in condemning the Tamil Nadu Assembly's action ordering the arrest of six journalists from The Hindu and Murasoli for breach of privilege.

At a meeting at the Press Club of Mumbai, co-hosted by the Mumbai Marathi Patrakar Sangh, senior editors spoke of the repercussions of the developments on the press. Aakar Patel, executive editor of Mid-Day, said the media should fight for absolute freedom of expression. There were numerous laws in India that restricted the freedom of expression and even the judiciary had not always supported the freedom.

The Editor of Mahanagar, Nikhil Wagle, who had been jailed twice after being sentenced for breach of privilege, said: "If this can happen to journalists, what about ordinary people?" The incident should be the beginning of a struggle on an all-India level. Journalists should draft rules for codification of privileges and demand that Parliament debate and pass these rules. "Otherwise, whatever hurts their (politicians') egos, will be considered breach of privilege."

The gathering sent a resolution to the Tamil Nadu Assembly Speaker, K. Kalimuthu, condemning his action and demanding that the decision be annulled unconditionally. "This case also highlights the urgency of the need to codify the privileges of State Assemblies and Parliament to prevent their use in an arbitrary and vindictive manner."

The Bombay News Photographers Association and the Mantralaya and Council Hall Reporters Association also condemned Mr. Kalimuthu's action. The latter met the Speaker of the Maharashtra Legislative Assembly, Arun Gujarathi, and discussed the need to codify the privileges.

At the end of the day, all the organisations and the Brihanmumbai Union of Journalists held a demonstration outside the Churchgate station just as thousands of commuters headed home. They held posters with caricatures of the Tamil Nadu Chief Minister, Jayalalithaa, waved black flags, shouted slogans and burnt a mock arrest warrant.

A surprise supporter at the demonstration was Medha Patkar of the Narmada Bachao Andolan and the National Alliance of People's Movements. Ms. Patkar said: "We are not surprised at what happened in Tamil Nadu. Freedom of expression is not just a concern for the press but also for the poor."

She urged the journalists "to have the strength to fight for these freedoms not just with your pens but also with your lives. I salute The Hindu for the strength it has shown and for the support it has given to people's movements".

The NAPM, in a statement, demanded the codification of the legislature's privileges.

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