Congress MP Shashi Tharoor, who heads the parliamentary panel on information technology, has given a notice for breach of privilege against BJP MP Nishikant Dubey, alleging that he made “disparaging remarks” on social media over his decision to summon a panel meeting to discuss alleged “misconduct” of Facebook.
In his letter to Lok Sabha Speaker Om Birla, Tharoor took strong objection to Dubey’s remarks on Twitter that “the Chairman of Standing Committee does not have the authority to do anything without discussion of the agenda with its members”.
Tharoor said Dubey accused him of championing his political party’s “agenda without authorisation by the Committee and Speaker”.
Dubey’s remarks came after Tharoor had said on Sunday that the Parliamentary Standing Committee on Information Technology would like to hear from Facebook about a media report on its conduct and what it proposes to do about hate-speech in India.
Anguished over “disparaging” remarks made by Dubey against his decision to call a meeting of the panel, Tharoor said it amounted to breach of privilege of his position as an MP and Chairman of the standing committee.
“The matter pertains to the disparaging remarks made by Dubey on a social media platform regarding my decision to summon a Committee meeting to discuss the alleged misconduct of Facebook and seek clarity on the measures that it intends to undertake to curb the spread of hate speech and fake news,” Tharoor said.
“Nishikant Dubey’s derogatory remarks have not only brought disrepute to my position as a Member of Parliament and Chairman but also to an institution that mirrors the will of the people of our country,” Tharoor alleged in the letter, a copy of which was also marked to Sunil Kumar Singh, chairman of Parliamentary Standing Committee on Privileges, Lok Sabha.
Tharoor urged Birla to issue necessary directions to initiate proceedings against Dubey for “committing a breach of privilege on multiple accounts and contempt of the House”.
“I sincerely hope that stringent action is taken in this matter so that it serves as a deterrent to the occurrence of similar incidents in future and restores public trust in Parliament,” the MP from Thiruvananthapuram said in the letter dated August 18.
Meanwhile, tagging a tweet on a media report about the rules and functioning of committees, Dubey on Wednesday tweeted, “In the last 11 years as an MP, I have neither violated any rules nor would I let anyone violate or abuse their power for their parties personal vendetta with agenda.”
Referring to the recently published news report in the Wall Street Journal which claimed that Facebook refused to apply hate speech rules to certain ruling party politicians, Tharoor in the letter underlined the serious nature of allegations made against the social media platform and its far-reaching implications on the citizens’ Right to Information.
Tharoor said he sought to convene the Committee meeting as part of the normal course of discussions on “safeguarding citizens’ rights and prevention of misuse of social/online news media platforms”.
The topic or agenda of the meeting “not only features on the list of subjects earmarked at the beginning of the year for the Committee’s deliberations but also was finalised by the members of the Committee at our first meeting, and bulletinised with your consent,” the Congress leader said.
Despite this, Tharoor alleged Dubey “insultingly criticised” his decision to do so.
Tharoor alleged that Dubey’s remarks amounted to a three-fold breach of privilege.
“The contemptuous words used by…Dubey have cast aspersions on the intent and integrity with which I fulfil my duties as an elected representative…,” he said.
Such words constitute unwarranted vilification of the Committee’s name and the manner in which it discharges its functions, Tharoor alleged.
“His actions have painted an ignominious picture of the revered institution of Parliament by indicating that its functionaries have circumvented the process that they are expected to follow,” he said.
Citing rules and procedures of Parliament, Tharoor reiterated that the subject of the meeting had been unanimously approved by the committee members, Speaker’s and Lok Sabha secretary general’s offices and thereafter it was placed in public domain through publication in the bulletin.
“Therefore, to claim that the chairman has acted in excess of his authority to convene a meeting on a pre-approved agenda, and has proceeded without seeking the necessary approvals, is tantamount to contempt of the due procedure followed by the House,” Tharoor said.
A Twitter duel had erupted between Dubey and Opposition MPs Tharoor and Mahua Moitra (TMC) over the prospect of the panel seeking views of Facebook on the WSJ report.
In the report published on Friday, US newspaper Wall Street Journal cited interviews with unnamed Facebook insiders to claim that one of its senior India policy executives intervened in internal communication to stop a permanent ban on a BJP MLA from Telangana after he allegedly made communally charged posts.
Reacting to the controversy, Facebook on Monday said the company’s social media platform prohibits hate speech and content that incites violence, adding these policies are enforced globally without regard to political affiliation.
“While we know there is more to do, we’re making progress on enforcement and conduct regular audits of our process to ensure fairness and accuracy,” a Facebook spokesperson said.