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Media and Legislature (Legislative privileges)

Press and Electronic media has to report the proceedings of the Parliament and State Legislatures. In the process they may confront the privileges of the parliamentarians. Any defiance of legislative order or any scandalization of legislative conduct can be viewed as contempt of House for which House has authority to punish. The Constitution provides several privileges to the parliamentarians.

Article 105(1) provides freedom of speech in parliament with an assurance that there would be no legal action for defamation even if what was said was not relevant to the business of the House. There will be no liability for anything said or any vote given by him in Parliament or any Committee thereof. Article 105(2). There will be no liability in respect of publication of any report, paper, votes or proceedings by/or under the authority of either House. The publication without authority is not protected and may incur the contempt liability.

Privileges of an MP and MLA
According to the Constitution, the powers, privileges and immunities of Parliament and MP's ar to be outlined by Parliament. No law has to this point been enacted in this respect. In the absence of any such law, it continues to be ruled by British Parliamentary conventions.

The privileges individually enjoyed by the members are:
Freedom of speech in parliament:
The members of the parliament are provided with the liberty of speech and expression. As the actual essence of our democracy is certainly a free and fearless discussion, something said by them expressing their views and thoughts are exempted from any liability and cannot be tried in the court of law.

The freedom of speech and expression certified to a national citizen under Article 19(2) is completely different from the liberty of speech and expression provided to a member of the parliament. It has been ensured under Article 105(1) of the Indian constitution. But the liberty is subject to rules and orders that regulates the proceedings of the parliament. This right is given even to non-members who have a right to speak in the house. Example, attorney general of India. So that, there's a fearless participation of the members within the dialogue and each member will proposes his thought.

Freedom from Arrest:
According to the Article 361 of the Constitution of India, the members enjoy freedom from arrest in any civil case 40 days before and after the adjournment of the house and also when the house is in session. No member is perhaps arrested from the proceedings of the parliament without prior permission of the house to that he/she belongs in order that there's no hindrance in performing their duties.

If the detention of any members of the parliament is made, the chairman or the speaker should be informed by the concerned authority, the reason for the arrest.
But a member may be arrested outside the limits of the house on criminal charges against him under The Preventive Detention act, The Essential Services Maintenance Act (ESMA), The National Security Act (NSA) or any such act.

Freedom from appearing as a witness
The members of the parliament relish special privileges and are exempted from attending court as a witness. They are given complete liberty to attend the house and perform their duties with no interference from the court.

Privileges Provided to the Members Collectively as Part of Parliament:
Right to prohibit the publication of proceedings:
As stated in Article 105(2) of the Constitution, no one shall be held responsible for publications of any reports, discussions etc. of the house under the authority of the member of the house.

For predominant and national importance, it is essential that the proceedings should be communicated to the public to aware them about what is going on in the parliament.
But, any partial report of separate a part of proceedings or any publication created with malice intention is disentitled for the protection. Protection is merely granted if it reflects the actual proceedings of the house. If any expunged proceedings are printed or any false statement or misreporting is found, it is held to be the breach of the privilege and contempt of the house.

Right to Exclude Strangers:
The members of the house have the authority and right to exclude strangers who are not members of the house from the proceedings. This right is essential for securing free and fair discussion within the house. If any breach is reported then the punishment in the form of admonition, reprimand, or imprisonment can be given.

The Right to Regulate the Internal Affairs of the House:
Each house has a right to regulate its proceedings in the way it deems fit and proper. Each house has its own jurisdiction over the house and no authority from the other house will interfere in regulation of its internal proceedings. Under Article 118 of the Constitution, the house has been empowered to conduct its regulation for proceedings and cannot be challenged in the court of law on the ground that the house is not in accordance with the rules made under Article 118. The Supreme Court has further held that this is often general provision and also the rule isn't binding upon the house. They can deviate or amend the rule anytime correspondingly.

Punishments for breach of privileges or contempt of the house
  1. Imprisonment:
    If the breach committed is of a grave nature the, penalty will be given within the variety of the imprisonment of any member or person.
  2. Imposing fine:
    If within the view of the parliament, the breach or contempt committed is of economic offence and any monetary gain has been made of the breach then, the parliament can impose fine on the person.
  3. Prosecuting the offenders:
    The parliament also can prosecute the one committing the breach.
  4. Punishment given to its own members:
    If any contempt is committed by the members of the parliament then, he is to be penalized by the house itself that might also result in the suspension of the member from the house.

Powers of media article 361A
Article 361A provides qualified privilege to media for publishing the brief, accurate and fair reporting of the proceedings, but it will not immune the media from the liability under contempt of House in case of breach of privilege by the media. Article 361A is not an exception to the immunity guaranteed to the legislators under Article 105(3) and 194(3).

The law of privileges affects the press and media. They may be either liable for breach of privilege or contempt of house.

The media persons may confront the following problems.
  1. Violation of any of the rules of procedures framed by the House.
  2. Breach of any privileges of legislators
  3. Publication of comments or other statements which undermine dignity of the House or shake the confidence of the public in legislature, which can be punished as contempt of house.

According to the first possibility mentioned above:
  1. The House has total control over the presence or otherwise of persons within the House.
  2. It can regulate the entry of media persons into it. It can prohibit a part of proceedings from being reported.
  3. Press Gallery Committee decides the entry permissions to accredited journalists.
  4. It can be withdrawn or cancelled either by Chairman of Rajya Sabha or by Speaker of Lok Sabha.
  5. If withdrawal is ordered under rule 387, disobedience may result in forcible withdrawal or arrest and it may also constitute contempt.

In case of MSM Sharma v S,K.Sinha AIR 1959 SC 395, the editor of Search Light newspaper published an expunged remark from the proceedings of Bihar Assembly, for which breach of privilege was issued. The Editor approached the Supreme Court under Article 32 contending that the notice of action under breach of privilege violates his fundamental right under Article 19(1)(a) and also interfere with the his personal liberty under Article 21 if arrested in pursuance of the privilege motion. The Supreme Court with majority opinion ruled that the Assembly had the right to claim the said privilege under Article 194(3) of the Constitution as was enjoyed by House of Commons.

Sanjeeva Reddy Case:
The speaker of Lok Sabha Mr N. Sanjeeva Reddy has criticised the observations of Tej Kiran, who was the follower and admirer of Jagadguru Shankaracharya Swamy of goverdan Peeth Puri. It was reported that Shankaracharya supported untouchability and walked out while National Anthem was played. On this, Mr Sanjeeva Reddy, Y B Chawan and others made some strong remarks, which were complained to be defamatory by Tej Kiran.

The High Court rejected the plaint of Tej Kiran claiming Rs 26,000 as damages from Sanjeeva Reddy and others for making defamatory remarks. The Supreme Court ruled that parliament has complete immunity to make fearless remarks on any matter and the courts had no say in the matter.

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