History of Press Gallery

The institution of ‘Press Gallery’ originated in the United Kingdom. About two centuries ago prominent British parliamentarian, Edmund Burke during a session in the House of Commons saw pressmen taking notes of the parliamentary proceedings and referred to the press as the “Fourth Estate”. His observation was based on the fact that the press had become the fourth most important pillar in England next to the Crown, the Lords and the Commons. Within this spirit the press is regarded as the fourth pillar of democracy and the Press Gallery in certain democratic dispensations is considered as an extension of the Parliament.

The introduction of controlled democracy in British colonies, including the subcontinent, coincided with the rise of local newspapers and political magazines. Since then in India and Pakistan, the press is regarded as a ‘principal communication link’ between the parliament and people.

According to ‘Practice and Procedure of Parliament’ by M. N. Kaul and S. L. Shakdher, the first Parliamentary Press Advisory Committee for India was constituted in 1929. Mr. Patel, then Speaker of the Imperial Legislative Assembly was the head of that seven-member Committee. In 1933 it was re-named as the “Press Gallery Committee”, with 7-9 pressmen and the Speaker as its member.

In 1970-71 the Indian Press Gallery Committee was expanded to ten members and in 1974-75 the membership was increased to fifteen to accommodate regional press as well. When this committee was formed its functions were described as:

a.         To make presentation to the Speaker or seek his counsel from time to time on such matters as it deems proper.

b.         To advise the Speaker on matters referred to it by or under the authority of the Speaker,

c.         To examine the admissions to the gallery, permanent and temporary, allotment of seats, and to advise the Speaker in case it has to suggest any changes.

In India the membership of the Press Gallery is given to journalists holding at least five years’ experience in the profession. All membership applications are scrutinized by the Press Gallery. As far as foreign correspondents are concerned they are given membership of the Press Gallery only if they are accredited with the government. As per agreed principle, the membership of the Press Gallery could be cancelled upon deliberate misreporting, advance publication of questions and answers or publication of any matter, which was not intended for the public. The press is also barred from publishing expunctions and in this regard it is duly informed about expunctions. However non-receipt of information does not protect the violators and is regarded as the breach of the privilege of the House. Similarly, the press has been barred to publish ‘subjective reflections’ on the reports of Parliamentary Committees and the proceedings of any secret session.

In 1928 the Press Gallery cards of journalists from the Times of India and Daily Telegraph, London, were cancelled for writing against the speaker. On September 5, 1936, a journalist from ‘Amrit Bazar Patrika’, Culcutta, was given the same punishment on similar grounds. After independence, in India Mr. A. Raghavan of weekly ‘Blitz’ was deprived of the Press Galley card on August 21, 1961 for commenting on the conduct of the Speaker.

Acknowledging the fact that the press provides ‘raw-material’ for questions, motions and debates in the Parliament (though it is not regarded as an authentic record or motion merely based on press may not be admitted), the parliamentary press has been given certain privileges in India. These privileges include:

a.         Publication of the proceedings and contents of questions and answers.

b.         Immunity from court of law on publication of authorized reports and proceedings; and

c.         As per discretion of the Speaker, access to the lobbies and central hall to journalists of integrity. However this practice was discontinued in May 1970.

These privileges are duly protected under the Parliamentary Proceeding (protection of publication) Act-1956. Similarly the Press Gallery Committee, which selects its’ secretary among 15 members, manage a small library and ensures supply of parliamentary papers/bills to the journalists.

Pakistani experience:

Pakistan inherited the tradition of Press Gallery from pre-independence parliamentary institutions. However, there is no specific law to streamline relations between the press and the parliament. Nevertheless, over the years the institution of Press Gallery has developed normatively. In the early days of Pakistan, senior most journalists used to cover the Parliament. The parliamentary press used to have a cup of tea with the leader of the House and the leader of the Opposition on conclusion of every session till 1970s.

During the 1985-88 party-less parliamentary experience the Press Gallery Committee was constituted on the initiative of journalists covering the parliament. Syed Absar Rizvi of Pakistan Press International was elected its first president. Mr. Rafique Goraya of Pakistan Television was the second president and Mr. Farooq Aqdas of Daily Jang was the Secretary. Later, owing to internal divisions among the journalists it could not grow as a dynamic institution and the tradition of elected Committee was abandoned.

It was in 2012, that the Parliamentary Reporters Association was formed and it is run by elected office bearers.

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