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Media advocacy groups demand fair and equal media coverage of Parliament

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The Centre for Independent Journalism, Gerakan Media Merdeka (Geramm) and the National Union of Journalists of Malaysia are disappointed with the repeated action of the Malaysian Parliament to restrict the media’s coverage of the proceedings of the Dewan Rakyat sitting to 16 media agencies.

We call for fair and equal media access to in-house parliamentary proceedings at all times, especially during times of crisis.
 
Almost two years into the Covid pandemic, the issue of unequal access for media coverage remains unresolved. Media organisations should be given the freedom to cover Parliament’s proceedings from 13 September to 12 October 2021. Any move to restrict coverage from media organisations is detrimental to press freedom, especially when the top leadership are talking about institutional reforms and good governance.
 
Only 16 media outlets are allowed to attend and perform coverage of the upcoming Dewan Rakyat sitting in parliament, according to a press statement by Speaker Azhar Azizan Harun. This is similar to what happened during the last Parliament sitting in October 2020, with only minor changes to the permitted list of media.
 
We call upon the Speaker to explain the reasoning, if any, on why selected media companies are specifically 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 about the double standards and transparency of the process. They need to justify their reasons by allowing access to selected media and for fairness, should only allow coverage for official media instead.
 
In many cases, the authorities, government or organisers appear to undermine the role of the media as the fourth estate, who are crucial in ensuring a healthy democracy.
 
This is clear as authorities continue to impose undue restrictions that fail to consider not only the needs of media personnel but the bigger role of a free press.
 
Since then, there have been various examples of undue restrictions that support our call towards self-regulation of the media, where media practitioners will have a say to determine important decisions affecting its operations and an overall free press.
 
In this case, if it was at all still necessary to limit the number of media organisations in Parliament, the existing Parliament 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 in times of the pandemic, rather than a unilateral decision made by authorities or organisers.
 
We demand that the restrictions be immediately lifted to protect the rights of the media and create an enabling and safe environment for the media to fulfil their role without discriminatory restrictions and interference. – CIJ/Geramm/ NUJM
 

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