Kit Siang: Restricting media coverage of Dewan Rakyat against spirit of parliamentary reforms

On October 16, Parliament issued a notice announcing that only 15 selected media outlets would be granted access to Parliament to cover the upcoming Dewan Rakyat meeting from November 2 to December 23. ― Picture by Shafwan Zaidon
On October 16, Parliament issued a notice announcing that only 15 selected media outlets would be granted access to Parliament to cover the upcoming Dewan Rakyat meeting from November 2 to December 23. ― Picture by Shafwan Zaidon

KUALA LUMPUR, Oct 18 — The Dewan Rakyat’s move to only allow 15 news organisations to attend the upcoming proceedings next month is against the spirit of parliamentary reforms, DAP’s Iskandar Puteri MP Lim Kit Siang said today.

Lim urged for an immediate review of the Dewan Rakyat’s decision to limit media coverage to just 15 news organisations, also calling for the Dewan Rakyat House Select Committee and news organisations themselves to be allowed to provide their input and suggestions in such a review.

“The limiting of coverage of the November Budget parliamentary session to 15 media organisations is arbitrary, discriminatory and against the very spirit of parliamentary reforms which should inform all parliamentary decisions,” he said in a statement.

Lim argued that such a decision on news coverage of Dewan Rakyat proceedings should not have been made by parliamentary administrators, but by the Dewan Rakyat House Select Committee.

He highlighted that the Dewan Rakyat’s Standing Order 79(1) entrusts the House Committee with the task of advising the Speaker on all matters connected with the “comfort and convenience of and services and amenities available to members of the House”, further arguing that media coverage falls under the category of services available to members of the Dewan Rakyat.

Acknowledging that the Covid-19 pandemic must be taken seriously, Lim pointed out that broad media coverage of Dewan Rakyat proceedings could be ensured by opening up a bigger room in Parliament for media personnel to comply with physical distancing requirements.

On October 16, Parliament issued a notice announcing that only 15 selected media outlets would be granted access to Parliament to cover the upcoming Dewan Rakyat meeting from November 2 to December 23. Budget 2021 is expected to be tabled on November 6.

To explain why only 15 news organisations were allowed in, the notice cited the need to curb the spread of Covid-19 and to comply with standard operating procedures (SOPs) for such purposes and to ensure the Dewan Rakyat meeting can be carried out safely. 

The notice also said that media personnel from the 15 selected media outlets have to undergo Covid-19 tests on October 30 and test negative before allowed entry into the Dewan Rakyat.

The notice did not explain the mechanism used to select the 15 agencies. 

Alternative solutions offered

Media movement Gerakan Media Merdeka (Geramm) has subsequently said that a larger room could be opened up in Parliament for media personnel to facilitate media coverage of Dewan Rakyat proceedings and highlighted the media’s role as a check and balance to the government. 

Various MPs have also questioned the alleged selective approach and voiced their support for press freedom, including PKR’s Lembah Pantai MP Fahmi Fadzil, Parti Pejuang Tanah Air’s Simpang Renggam MP Maszlee Malik, and Malaysian United Democratic Alliance’s Muar MP Syed Saddiq Abdul Rahman.

PKR’s Petaling Jaya MP Maria Chin Abdullah yesterday also claimed that the Covid-19 SOP is being used to limit media’s access to Parliament, highlighting the importance of media freedom and said that restrictions to press freedom would lead to potential greater abuse by the government on press freedom.

She proposed various methods that Parliament could act upon to be inclusive rather than taking “an easy way out by being exclusive”, including having two or three more areas as media workstations which would then meet the SOP on physical distancing, and also adding one more designated media conference area on top of the existing space to allow a better spread of press conferences.

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