17 Oct DONT LIMIT PRESS FREEDOM
17 October 2020
Time and again the excuse of adhering to the standard operating procedure for Covid-19 is used to discourage association and now it is again used to limit media’s access into the Parliament. I sincerely urge the Dewan Rakyat Speaker Azhar Azizan Harun to review the decision to limit media presence at this third parliamentary session, which begins on 2 November 2020.
In this coming Parliament sitting one very important debate is on the table, and that is the National Budget for 2021 which will spread over 24 days, including debates on specific Ministries’ budget. In addition, there will be debates on laws, such as the outstanding IPCC bill, amendments to the Poison Act, Ombudsman Bill and others. The role of the media at the Parliament is not only to cover the debates but also to interview Ministers, Members of Parliament (MPs) for their views as well as to cover any critical and/or urgent issues that any MPs may want to raise to the public via the media. Realistically, these variety of activities cannot be carried out effectively without journalists being at the Parliament.
Therefore, limiting media organisations entry into the parliament denies the public’s access to a plethora of news and views offered by our vibrant and diverse media. We must always be reminded that a free press contributes towards the right of freedom of expression, thought and conscience, strengthening the accountability and responsiveness of the government towards its citizens. The proposed formation of the Media Council was precisely to encourage the media to be active, professional and investigative so that they deliver the hard news for the public to form their own opinions.
Most importantly, the Parliament House cannot and must not be the institution to restrict freedom of the media as it is the bastion of parliament democracy. It is this very restrictions imposed to adhere to SOPs that will in turn caused greater abuse by the government on press freedom. Surely there are many ways that the Parliament can be more inclusive than to take an easy way out by being exclusive. This can include: having two or three more areas as media work stations which will meet the SOPs of social distancing; and adding in one more designated media conference areas to allow better spread of press conferences.
Maria Chin Abdullah
Member of Parliament