In an extraordinary step, External Affairs Minister S M Krishna on Friday served a legal notice on Press Trust of India for reporting that he appeared to be absentminded when called upon to make a statement by the Lok Sabha Speaker.
PTI had reported that when Speaker Meira Kumar called Krishna to make statement on Thursday on the situation in Sri Lanka, he was not in his seat and was engaged in conversation with some members in the aisle.
The report said that as Agriculture Minister Sharad Pawar drew his attention to the speaker's direction, Krishna failed to immediately find a copy of the statement in his file. Lok Sabha secretariat staff had to then provide him with a copy.
Late at night, a senior official of his ministry called PTI to state that Krishna, who was handling questions in Rajya Sabha had handed over certain papers to his deputy Preneet Kaur which were meant for his statement in the lower house.
When asked to make the statement, he had to get the papers from Kaur. The official also said that it was not a case of the minister being absentminded. This clarification was then added to the original report. However, in a legal notice served on PTI, a lawyer, representing him, said the PTI report was "completely false" and "malicious". He demanded a public apology "along with an advertisement" for the same.
This is perhaps the first time that any minister has threatened a news organisation with criminal as well as civil action for reporting proceedings of Parliament despite the Parliamentary Proceedings (Protection of Publication) Act.
The Act, passed in 1956 at the initiative of Feroz Gandhi, husband of late Prime Minister Indira Gandhi, states that no person shall be liable for any proceedings, civil or criminal, in any court in respect of publication of a substantially true report of Parliamentary proceedings.
Krishna's notice also alleges that PTI had sought to intentionally damage his reputation in the past few months but did not cite any specific instances. The minister had been upset with a PTI report from the United Nations in February this year which said he was caught in a public gaffe when he read out a speech of his Portuguese counterpart by mistake in the UN Security Council.