Stop stifling media’s role in a democracy, groups tell Art Harun and Gov’t

SEVERAL non-governmental organisations (NGO) criticised Dewan Rakyat Speaker Datuk Azhar Azizan Harun for only allowing select media outlets to cover its upcoming sittings.

“Almost two years into the pandemic, the issue of unequal access for media coverage remains unresolved. Media organisations should be given the freedom to cover Parliamentary proceedings.

“Any move to restrict coverage from media organisations is detrimental to press freedom, especially at a time when the top leadership is talking about institutional reforms and good governance,” they said in a joint statement.

The statement was signed by Centre for Independent Journalism (CIJ), Gerakan Media Merdeka (Geramm) and the National Union of Journalists of Malaysia (NUJM).

Yesterday, Azhar announced that only 16 media agencies will allowed to cover the upcoming sitting from inside Parliament grounds. No reasons given for the decision made.

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.

For the first time in history, even Government-linked outlet, New Straits Times was barred from covering the sitting, scheduled from Sept 13 to Oct 12.

Upset over the matter, the NGOs recalled that this was second time restriction were placed on media organisations from covering Parliamentary sitting, as the first time happened in Oct last year.

“The Speaker must explain the reasoning on why some media companies are not allowed to physically cover the proceedings.

“Azhar’s statement made no reference as to how the selection for permitted media outlets was conducted, raising questions on the double standards and transparency of the process,” they added.

Let us decide instead

On that note, the groups claimed that the authorities appear to be undermining the media’s role as the Fourth Estate, which is a crucial pillar in a working democracy.

“If there is a need to limit the number of media agencies covering Parliament sitting, press organisations should discuss and decide on how to take turns based on individual plans for coverage.

“The same concept can be applied for all physical coverage during COVID-19 times, rather than a unilateral decision made by authorities or organisers,” it stressed.

They remarked: “We demand the restrictions be lifted immediately to protect media rights and create a safe environment for us to fulfil our role, without discriminatory restrictions and interference.”- Sept 9, 2021

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