The Congress is making it clear that it does not agree with a controversial bill on media regulation introduced in Parliament by Rahul Gandhi's close aide, Meenakshi Natarajan. "The bill emanates from Meenakshi Natarajan's personal views and does not reflect Rahul's views," said Congress spokesperson Janardhan Dwivedi today.
Ms Natarajan, who is the Congress MP from Mandsaur in Madhya Pradesh introduced a private member's bill last week that asks for the creation of an authority which will have the power to ban any news organisation that poses a threat to national security. The seven-member regulatory body would be selected by a committee with many government nominees.
Any bill introduced by a member of Parliament in Lok Sabha or Rajya Sabha which is not sponsored by the government is a private member's bill.
Amid criticism from virtually every quarter including the BJP, Ms Natarajan finds herself isolated.
Despite multiple clarifications from the Congress, government control over the media has been a matter of growing public debate. It began with the anti-corruption movement led by Anna Hazare last year. Many in believed the reportage was biased in favour of Anna and his activists. Then Internet giants like Facebook and Google found themselves facing criminal and civil lawsuits towards the end of last year for allegedly hosting obscene and inflammatory content. Telecom Minsiter Kapil Sibal said all Internet sites were responsible for removing offensive comment.
A controversy over whether he wanted online content screened before it entered the public domain forced him to clarify that is not what he meant. But the minister said that sites have so far refused to follow Indian laws, and if that continues, they will be penalised. In January, the Delhi High Court's declaration that India could go the China way and ban Internet sites made international headlines. Most recently, reports of tension between military and civil leadership has once again revived talks of media regulation.