Dewan Rakyat Speaker must explain reasons for barring media coverage

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Media groups are urging Dewan Rakyat Speaker Datuk Azhar Azizan Harun to explain his reasons for barring certain media from the upcoming Parliament sitting beginning next week.

Gerakan Media Merdeka (Geramm) told the New Straits Times today that the move should be clarified as it concerned press freedom.

“Media organisations should be given the freedom to cover Parliament’s proceeding. If by any chance, one media is not allowed, the onus is on those who have the authority.

“In this case, the speaker has to explain the reasoning if any on why selected media companies are specifically not allowed to cover the proceedings.

“The move to restrict coverage from media organisations is detrimental to freedom of the press in the country especially at a time when the top leadership are talking about institutional reforms and good governance,” it said.

National Union of Journalists (NUJ) general secretary Chin Sung Chew also called for the speaker to be transparent and clarify why a number of media organisations were not allowed to cover the sitting and give valid reasons for it.

He emphasised that the new government should allow all media to cover the Parliament sitting physically, adding that Parliament must explain why these restrictions were imposed.

“It is necessary for the speaker to give a proper reason why quite a number of media organisations, including mainstream media, were not given access to cover on Parliament grounds.

“It is double standards. If the reason was because of Covid-19, then all media should have to cover the sitting virtually and access given only to official media only.

“Even the last media sitting allowed coverage though with a limited number of representatives from each organisation. Don’t forget the media is the fourth estate to the people,” he told the NST.

In a statement earlier today, Azhar had announced that only 16 media agencies were allowed to cover the upcoming sitting from inside the Parliament grounds, with no reasons given for the arbitrary move.

This new ruling, which was not in place in the previous sitting, excludes many news organisations, including the NST. This is the first time in NST’s history that it was denied entry onto Parliament grounds for a Dewan Rakyat sitting.

Other media organisations not in the list are Utusan Malaysia, Kosmo, Harian Metro, Malay Mail, Free Malaysia Today, The Vibes, The Malaysian Insight, Malaysian Gazette and The Malaysian Reserve.

Media organisation allowed to cover the Parliament sitting include government media agencies RTM, Bernama, the Information Department and Finas. Other agencies allowed to enter Parliament are TV3, Astro Awani, Berita Harian, Sinar Harian, The Star, The Sun, Sin Chew Daily, Nanyang Siang Pau, Malaysia Nanban, AFP, Malaysiakini and Malaysia Now.

The last time restrictions were imposed on the media at the Dewan Rakyat was during its Nov 2 to Dec 23 sitting, when local online media outlets were given restricted access to sessions, including during the tabling of the 2021 Budget.

Only 15 organisations comprising 14 local agencies and one foreign media outlet had been permitted entry on grounds of compliance with Covid-19 prevention standard operating procedures. – NST