Ahead of Budget tabling, Opposition MP accuses Parliament officials of restricting media coverage

Lembah Pantai MP Fahmi Fadzil says he is disappointed that the Parliament officials are preventing media agencies, in particular online media agencies from covering the tabling of the Budget 2021 Bill. — Picture by Hari Anggara.
Lembah Pantai MP Fahmi Fadzil says he is disappointed that the Parliament officials are preventing media agencies, in particular online media agencies from covering the tabling of the Budget 2021 Bill. — Picture by Hari Anggara.

KUALA LUMPUR, Oct 16 ― Lembah Pantai MP Fahmi Fadzil called out Parliament officials today for limiting the number of news agencies in the coming Dewan Rakyat sitting, claiming it was a ploy to restrict media freedom.

The PKR federal lawmaker referred to an official notice issued earlier today listing only 15 news agencies, most of which were newspapers and mainstream local-based broadcast agencies.  

He noted that many online news companies and international wires were missing from the list, with the exception of Channel News Asia, headquartered in Singapore.

“I'm disappointed that the Parliament officials are preventing media agencies, in particular online media agencies from covering the tabling of the Budget 2021 Bill.

“This is actually the most important moment and more media agencies should be allowed to be present to cover the Bill being tabled and debates on how the Ringgit is managed by the government to address the current Covid-19 outbreak in the country,” he said in a statement.

The circular cited physical distancing and other health regulations to prevent the spread of the Covid-19 coronavirus among its reasons to limited media agencies allowed into Parliament next month when Budget 2021 is scheduled to be tabled and debated.

The Dewan Rakyat will reconvene from November 2 to December 15. The Perikatan Nasional (PN) government is scheduled to table next year’s budget on November 6.

The circular also comes after a politically eventful week that included a disclosure by Umno's Gua Musang MP Tengku Razaleigh Hamzah on a no-confidence motion against Prime Minister Tan Sri Muhyiddin Yassin that revealed rifts within the PN alliance and Opposition Leader Datuk Seri Anwar Ibrahim’s royal audience with the Yang di-Pertuan Agong after claiming to have the support of over 120 parliamentary legislators, enough to cause another change in government.

Expressing scepticism over the reasons given, Fahmi said that Parliament officials could do more to accommodate the large number of journalists covering Budget and other debates while keeping to health regulations if they had the will to do so.

“The presence of various media agencies is important as it reflects the freedom of speech.

“That is why I am concerned over this ruling which could raise misunderstandings by portraying that Parliament is impeding media freedom by only allowing certain official media,” he said.

 He pointed out that the media is seen as one of the pillars of democracy.

“There is still time and I view that the Speaker can still amend the situation.  

“I urge the Datuk Speaker that he will reconsider his ruling, not just for the sake of freedom of speech but also the nobility of the Dewan Rakyat.

“Datuk Speaker, stand up for media rights!” said Fahmi.  

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