By Oken Jeet Sandham
During Assembly sessions, many visitors came to see the Question Hours, Debates on the Governor Address, discussions on the Budget Document and also other discussions on Public Importance in the House. College and university students were also among others who came to witness the House session. Chief Secretary, DGP, representative of the Raj Bhavan and Heads of Department are normally present during the session. So in order to facilitate all these, various galleries have been arranged.
Amongst the galleries, there is a press gallery for the press persons. The press gallery is part of a parliament or other legislative body where media personnel are allowed to sit to observe and then report the business transactions taking place on the Floor. Access to the information is essential to the health of democracy for at least two reasons. First, it ensures that citizens make responsible, informed choices rather than acting out of ignorance or misinformation. Second, information serves a “checking function” by ensuring that elected representatives uphold their oath of office and carry out the wishes of those who elected them. The public observes the events through the works of the media personnel who make up the press gallery. And when the parliament or assembly proceedings are not adequately covered, the democratic process suffers. In fact, the press media is inseparable component of the parliament and legislative bodies. It is instrumental in helping the parliament and the legislative bodies perform their primary function in making government accountable for its actions.
The fundamental point is the press personnel in the press gallery should not only hear the Honorable Members talking but also see them physically, so that they can report of what they say on the floor and their actions and physical gestures as well. If the media personnel are to report the speeches and events by hearing, then they need not to come in the press gallery. They can do their job by sitting in their press room in the assembly building. But their stories will never be complete if they fail to witness the speeches and events on the floor with their own eyes.
This is the very reason why most of the press galleries in any parliaments or other legislative bodies around the world are arranged in such a place from where they can overlook the floor of the House and not partially. The press gallery should be logistically placed and it should not be equated with the visitors’ gallery.
We have seen how the press galleries have been evolving in parliaments and legislative bodies around the world. In olden days, the media personnel in the press galleries were busying note-taking. But today, the media personnel start focusing on the key issues and the Question Hours. They can make interesting stories from the Question Hour period. It provides critical elements of the news because of its immediacy, terseness, and heated arguments between prominent members. Many experts, however, feel that such news from the Question Hour period does not have much impact. Yet it still carries importance for the future reference.
I am grateful to Chief Minister Neiphiu Rio for showering praises on the State media. I am happy to see one very important point he made on the media that “The media must be allowed to function in an environment that allows freedom of expression and free speech, without any hindrance.” In fact, the appreciation he made on the floor of the House while presenting Vote-on-Account on March 16, 2013 was “unique,” although in a very diplomatic way he was asking the media not only to highlight the Governance deficits, but also their initiatives and welfare programs.
In Nagaland, the press gallery plays their crucial role giving impartial coverage of both government and opposition, although the tussle to get press gallery attention between the government and opposition is noticeable. But as the government continues to grow in size and complexity, the press gallery may focus more on the various ministries. But such a development may not be seen as sound and healthy for the House, i.e. a perceived disproportion of power between the executive and legislative. There is perception of the executive dominance over the parliamentary system.
Our Honorable Leader of the House is perhaps not aware of the press gallery that has been shifted out of their earlier location to the upper balcony from the last session of the last 11th Nagaland Legislative Assembly. The press gallery, when it was placed at the lower ring balcony on the left side of the Chair, they could see the entire Members on the floor, heads of departments and even half of the visitors sitting at the visitor gallery in upper balcony. Now much to their embarrassment, the visitors have been allowed to mix up with them (press personnel in the press gallery) thereby their distinct identity as “press” has also started suffering.
Now the fact is media personnel from this top balcony can only see 18 Members including Leader of the House sitting in the Treasury Bench on the floor. The rest and most importantly the Members of the Opposition cannot be seen at all. Luckily, the Speaker can be seen. That means the press persons can only see one-third Members on the floor and the rest – be it from the Treasury or Opposition Bench who are out of sight missed to create an impression to the press.
Who knows some of the members particularly from the Opposition might have well planned to present their arguments with typical gestures and actions to draw the attention of the press gallery. But regrettably, the media persons sitting in their present press gallery would not see them physically as already stated.
To cite an instance, the press gallery could not see physically Tokheho Yepthomi, Hukhavi from the Opposition Bench when they took part in the discussion on the Governor’s Address on March 16, 2013. All the press persons in the press gallery had to be content with the overhead projector displayed. We know that the role of the Opposition and their participation in every business on the floor of the House was crucial in shaping the good Governance and as such coverage of their every participation – be it in discussion on Public Importance, Question Hours, discussion on Budget Document or Governor’s Address in the House – is extremely important. But in our case, we can only hear them speaking but cannot see them. Sometimes, some restless and curious media persons tried to rise from their respective chairs to catch a glimpse of the Members participating in the discussions. But repeatedly rising from their respective chairs looked quite odd in the eyes of other visitors who perhaps might not know they were “media persons.”
Some of us in the press gallery were actually worried whether we would be able to see from our present gallery the Governor who would be delivering his address in the August House on March 15, 2013, though we would hear him addressing the House. We were mentally disturbed for the fact that our present Governor would be giving his last address to this August House and would be leaving shortly to occupy his next gubernatorial post in Karnataka. Luckily, he could be seen. Thank God.
As we all know that media plays an important role in a democratic society. They form the public opinions. And imagine what would be the outcome of the assembly proceedings if they were not reported by the press personnel. Government media would only highlight the Government achievements, programs and policies but not the views and opinions of the Opposition Members.
The whole world is obsessed with fast internet evolution. We are even wondering what will be this world after 10 years from now. Yet, regrettably here, we are yet to catch up. We are trying to grapple with many things but practically nothing is there for us to grapple with.
The members of the press gallery are provided various facilities including free office space in the parliament or assembly buildings in most jurisdictions. In many jurisdictions, the press gallery enjoys free stationary, free photocopying, free fax machines, free government publications, free parking, and access to parliamentary dining room.
They also enjoy other special facilities that enable them to do their job such as facilities for holding news conferences, lock-ups where they may examine the budget or other important documents prior to their tabling in parliament or in assembly. In our assembly building, these facilities are yet to come. We have a press room with one set of computer without internet connectivity or WiFi facilities. This Assembly building is quite far off the main town. And when the assembly continues to have whole day session, most of the media persons shall have every possibility to miss their deadlines if they fail to file their stories from their press room in the assembly building. We feel that Internet connectivity should be provided with 4 to 5 more sets of computer, because around 20 media personnel are normally present during sessions for reporting. It would also be very helpful for the press personnel if the assembly can provide reference books for the State political leaders—past and present—and also copies of the local and few national dailies in the press room. With Chotisuh Sazo taking over the reign of Speaker post, it is hoped that the press gallery is relocated at its earlier place so that they perform their duties peacefully and also other necessary facilities provided.