Facilitate media coverage, not restrict, journalism group tells Parliament

Facilitate media coverage, not restrict, journalism group tells Parliament
PARLIAMENT should facilitate coverage of its proceedings for news organisations rather than restrict them, the Centre of Independent Journalism (CIJ) said of the directive allowing only selected media to cover the upcoming parliamentary meeting.

The decision amounts to discrimination by limiting the media’s access when Parliament should instead be thinking more constructively of ways to adapt while protecting the health and safety of the media, CIJ said.

“The role of the state is to create an enabling environment for the media to operate during this time of public health crisis.

“Covid-19 must not be used as an excuse to restrict access and limit media freedom, ultimately denying the public access to timely and balanced information on the parliamentary proceedings, especially at a time when the budget is to be debated,” it said in a statement by its executive director Wathshlah G. Naidu.

Only 15 news organisations, mostly government-owned or linked, are allowed to cover the Dewan Rakyat meeting of November 2 to December 23 on site. This meeting will include the tabling of Budget 2020 on November 6.

CIJ noted that online news portals were excluded from the list of permitted media and questioned how Parliament decided which organisations should be allowed to cover the proceedings.

“In particular, why were online news portals sidelined?” 

It suggested various measures that Parliament could take to facilitate media coverage, among them, allowing more organisations but capping the maximum number of staff from each; converting unoccupied rooms in the building into media rooms; and enforcing mandatory wearing of masks and providing hand sanitiser stations around the premises.

CIJ said Parliament’s decision to allow only selected media was the latest in a trend of “shrinking of spaces for local and international media to report” using the Covid-19 pandemic as an excuse.

“Certain spaces and press conferences (have been) limited to just a few ‘official media’. 

“This clearly denotes an attempt by the state to control the narrative and for how and by whom information is to be made available to the public.” – October 17, 2020.