K’taka Speaker pulled up for being complainant, judge and jury
Speaker of the Karnataka Assembly invites outrage for acting on his own complaint to sentence an editor to a year in prison. Journalist bodies call for withdrawal of the resolution
The Editors Guild of India, in a statement, condemned the decision of the Karnataka Assembly Speaker, K B Koliwad, to sentence two journalists to prison and pay a fine for publishing allegedly defamatory articles against a few MLAs.
The statement goes on to record, “The Guild opines that the decision violates the Fundamental Right of Freedom of Speech guaranteed under the Indian Constitution and the Freedom of the Press. It is also a gross misuse of the powers of the legislature. The Guild urges the Karnataka Assembly to withdraw its resolution without delay.”
The Speaker last week authorised one-year prison term for Ravi Belagere, owner of weekly tabloid Hi, Bangalore and the editor of Yelahanka Voice newspaper, Anil Raj. The Speaker also ordered them to pay a fine of ₹10,000 each.
The decision has evoked widespread criticism because the Assembly’s Privileges Committee, chaired by Kimmane Ratnakar of the Congress, had recommended that only Raj be punished on the complaint filed by BJP MLA S R Vishwanath.
The Speaker was himself the complainant against Belagere. And as the chairman of the Privileges Committee in 2015-2016, Koliwad had himself conducted the hearings. Now that he is the Speaker, he went beyond the report of the Privileges Committee and sentenced Belagere as well though the Privileges Committee had not recommended any action against Belagere.
The tabloid - Hi, Bangalore - according to media reports, had apparently carried a report on Koliwad’s attempts to get into the state cabinet as a minister. The Congress MLA took offence and initiated a breach of privilege motion against the tabloid’s owner-editor.
The Privileges Committee, after Koliwad moved to become the Speaker, found no merit in the complaint and did not recommend any action against Belagere. But Koliwad as Speaker overruled the committee headed by another Congress MLA Kimmane Ratnakar.
While it is not clear if Koliwad had filed a case for defamation, on the face of it, his complaint appears to be weak and has drawn the ire of journalist bodies.
Former Outlook editor and senior journalist Krishna Prasad in his blog posted a scathing post which can be read here :