Malaysia: New government prevents media outlets from attending parliament

Malaysia’s parliamentary speaker Azhar Arizan Harun announced on September 8, the new government led by prime minister Ismail Sabri Yaakob will continue to restrict media outlets from attending parliament when it resumes on September 13. The International Federation of Journalists (IFJ) and its affiliate, the National Union of Journalists Peninsular Malaysia (NUJM) urge the Malaysian government to allow equal access to the in-house parliamentary proceedings.

Malaysia prime minister Ismail Sabri Yaakob leaves to meet with King Sultan Abdullah Sultan Ahmad Shah in Kuala Lumpur on August 19, 2021. Credit: Arif KARTONO / AFP

Malaysia’s parliament resumed session on September 13 and will sit until October 1, with only 16 media outlets allowed to attend. It is unclear how media outlets were chosen or ruled out from being eligible to attend parliament. Malaysia’s parliament also restricted journalists from attending in-person last year and more recently in the July special session, citing the risk of Covid-19 infection.

This is the first parliamentary session since the resignation of prime minister Muhyiddin Yassin on August 9 and the appointment of Ismail Sabri as the new prime minister on August 20. According to Malaysia’s constitutional monarch, King Al-Sultan Abdullah, Sabri was appointed rather than elected due to the country’s Covid-19 outbreak.

Over the last month, Malaysia’s Covid-19 case numbers have continued to surge despite 65 per cent of Malaysian adults being fully vaccinated and four months of restrictions.

In a joint statement, the NUJM, Centre for Independent Journalism Malaysia (CIJ) and the Gerakan Media Merdeka (GERAMM) called on the Malaysian government to allow media organisations to self-regulate and allow parliamentary press organisations to make a plan to share parliamentary media coverage.

The statement said: “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 … They need to justify their reasons by allowing access to selected media and for fairness, should only allow coverage for official media instead.”

The IFJ said:In a time of political instability, it is essential that the Malaysian government allows equal access to parliament to prevent unbiased reporting and ensure a strong independent media. The IFJ urges the new government to allow Malaysia’s media organisations to decide how they will share access to covering Malaysia’s parliament.”

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