Serious issues about Parliament are not getting coverage. Politicians must set the narrative by creating compelling communication and amplifying it
Week 1 of Parliament: Opposition MPs from Trinamool Congress wear black masks around their mouths to signify how their voices are being muzzled in Parliament.
Week 2 of Parliament: Opposition MPs from Congress, DMK, SP and others put up a giant banner on the facade of Parliament building, demanding a Joint Parliamentary Committee. Some Opposition party MPs sign caps with the words “Arrest Adani” inscribed on them. These are then taken to the offices of the Finance Minister, Enforcement Directorate and Central Bureau of Investigation.
Week 3 of Parliament: Opposition MPs from over a dozen parties wear all black to Parliament, as a sign of protest. Some wear black masks.
Why, you might well ask, are Members of Parliament, not belonging to the ruling party, indulging in such tactics? Cynics could even call these acts, gimmicks. But before rushing to any conclusion, let us examine what exactly is happening (or more correctly, not happening) at the altar of democracy — Parliament.
Pictures beamed from Sansad TV (the channel that telecasts proceedings of Lok Sabha and Rajya Sabha) are being selectively edited online before telecast. Protests by Opposition MPs are rarely, if ever, shown. The edited video output ensures the focus is on the Speaker, Chairperson and the Treasury Benches. Visuals of Opposition MPs protesting from their seats or in the well of the House are censored. Sansad TV is not the only culprit. Media outlets too have their “own priorities”. Here is one example from last week. The Prime Minister delivering a speech while inaugurating a sewage treatment plan in Varanasi at around 2 pm on March 24, got wall-to-wall live coverage. At around the same time, news of Rahul Gandhi’s disqualification as an MP broke. Opposition parties, like mine, did not wait for phone-ins from television channels. We were creating our own “Breaking News” by posting our reactions on Twitter, Instagram, and Facebook.
Yes, there is no use being a cry baby. No use sitting around complaining about pro-establishment reportage. Political parties in the Opposition will have to overcome these challenges through innovative ways. I feel, besides professional journalists and citizen journalists, the time is now ripe for “politician journalists” who must set the narrative in a proactive manner by creating compelling communication (even if it means shooting on personal mobile phones) and then amplifying the same beyond the legacy media.
The eight years I spent in my twenties in the creative department of that brilliant advertising agency, Ogilvy & Mather, come in handy today. Generating political content that cuts the clutter is a challenge. We are moving to an era where political parties fighting the good fight will not wait for a guest relation executive from Noida to call a spokesperson to appear on prime time television. Where choreographed conclaves and soporific summits will be called out as advertorials for the ruling party. Where those taking on the Union government will create more ingenious media spaces to directly engage with the citizen.
Look at what has been happening in the ongoing Budget Session. A minacious precedent is being set. MPs from the Treasury Benches are shouting slogans. The Union Budget, totalling an amount of Rs 45 lakh crore, was passed in just nine minutes. The very next day, the Finance Bill 2023 was also passed without any discussion. Scrutiny of Bills by Parliamentary committees has come down from a healthy 60 per cent to a dismal 13 per cent. Out of every 10 Bills passed, as many as four are Ordinances. In contrast, this number was two Ordinances out of 10 bills, 20 years ago. Bills are also being passed in a hurry. In the 2022 budget session, Lok Sabha utilised only 62 per cent of the time allocated by the Business Advisory Committee (BAC) for discussion, and Rajya Sabha utilised just 48 per cent. The last eight consecutive sessions of Parliament have been adjourned sine die before the scheduled date of closure.
These serious issues about Parliament are not getting many centimetres of coverage in newspapers and are most often ignored by news channels. I do believe it’s the MPs from the Opposition parties who are being compelled to play the role of content creator and amplifier aka “politician journalists”.
Parliament must not be allowed to be turned into a deep, dark chamber.
Scribes covering Parliament are slowly being made to play diminishing roles by a government that wants total control. Senior editors, who till not so long ago had access to Central Hall, are now not allowed into this sanctum sanctorum. No political party has conducted a formal press conference in Parliament House in at least a few years. Entry of journalists has also been restricted; lots are drawn and those whose names come up are given entry passes. In the last few weeks we have noticed groups of school children being taken around Parliament on conducted tours. Very good. If the Covid restrictions have been lifted, let us get back to pre-Covid rules when it comes to journalists.
Last week, I attended the equivalent of the Pulitzer Prize in India, the Ramnath Goenka Excellence in Journalism awards. After the awards ceremony, I hung around for more than an hour casually interacting with many of the journalists who had been felicitated. They were young. They were fearless. They gave me hope.
[This article appeared in The Indian Express | Friday, March 31, 2023]