Speaker rejects privilege notice against newspaper

Special Correspondent

NEW DELHI: Lok Sabha Speaker Somnath Chatterjee on Thursday turned down a privilege notice against The Pioneer newspaper for allegedly publishing an article casting aspersions on the Chair saying it was "beneath the dignity of this great institution to take further note of the motivated imputations in the impugned article."

While closing "this chapter," he added the caveat that "in future, reckless and contumacious conduct indulged in, by whosoever [it] may be, will be dealt with in the appropriate manner so as to preserve and enhance the dignity of the highest public forum in our country."

Though Mr. Chatterjee reiterated the stance he adopted last Friday when the privilege notice — moved by some Rashtriya Janata Dal and Samajwadi Party members — was taken up for discussion, this time his decision was accepted by the ruling benches which had opposed it, stating that the article not only insulted the office of the Speaker but also the Lok Sabha and its Secretariat.

Bringing up the matter soon after Question Hour, the Speaker gave his ruling after reading from a four-page note detailing all that had transpired on the issue and the legal position on such matters. Describing the contents of the article as "grossly libellous" amounting to "contempt of the Presiding Officer of the House and thereby the entire House," he said his decision to close the matter despite "gross breach of privilege" was also tailored by the "condemnation" of the article on the floor of the House.

As for the "freedom of press issue" raised by the Bharatiya Janata Party last Friday, the Speaker — without naming the party and maintaining that he had "not claimed any immunity from any bona fide criticism" — said that "in the name of exercising freedom of [the] press, there cannot be [a] trial by the press in which it plays the role of both the accuser and judge."