The Parliament’s corporate communications unit issued a statement on October 16, instituting new limitations for in-house media coverage for the Third Meeting of the Third Term of the 14th Parliament session. 15 organisations have been granted access: Radio Television Malaysia (RTM), Bernama, TV Al-Hijrah, TV3, New Straits Times, Berita Harian, Astro Awani, Utusan Malaysia, Sinar Harian, The Star, The Sun, Sin Chew Daily, Nanyang Siang Pau, Malaysia Nanban and Channel News Asia.
The list of organisations, which excludes news portals operating exclusively online, was determined by an unexplained mechanism, and is said to be in accordance with standard operating procedures established by the Health Ministry and National Security Council. Each media agency will be allowed to assign one reporter and one photographer or videographer, with institutions who are not given access told to make arrangements with state-owned organisations RTM and Bernama.
The Dewan Rakyat parliamentary sitting is crucial in tabling the 2021 Budget from November 6 and determining support for current Prime Minister Muhyiddin Yassin.
The NUJM has stated that the selection process should be reassessed to enable wider coverage and adhere to principles of free press and government transparency, especially in issues of national importance. Media rights association the Centre for Independent Journalism (CIJ) also questioned why Malaysian Parliament is “responding to COVID-19 related challenges by discriminately limiting the media’s access and undermining their rights and independence in the process, rather than thinking more constructively of other adaptive or mitigative measures that would guarantee the protection and safety of the media?”
The NUJM said: “Media workers are also front-line workers and our job is to report everything that happens in the country. NUJM once again calls upon the relevant authority to re-evaluate its decision on the selection of media agencies for the coverage of the Third Meeting and Budget Presentation 2021 in Parliament.”
The IFJ said: “IFJ condemns restrictions limiting media access to the Dewan Rakyat sitting and calls for fair and equal access to parliamentary proceedings, especially in times of crisis. Action needs to be taken to ensure transparency and impartiality in the selection process to ensure the safe inclusion of all local journalists in accordance with current pandemic provisions."