Parliament Media Access: Democracy begins here

The Foreign Correspondents' Club of Malaysia (FCCM) understands Parliament has limited media access to just 15 agencies for the upcoming November 2 to December 23 sitting. From the list, just one foreign media outlet will be allowed to cover this two-month-long session.

The stated reason is to reduce the number of media personnel given the ongoing third wave of Covid-19 infections.

Yet, it is this very pertinent issue which is of utmost public interest that should instead encourage one of the most important institutions of Malaysiaís democracy to facilitate coverage. This is to ensure both Malaysians and the global public can be made aware of the many facets of the nationís approach to this singular challenge.

This is especially so given that Budget 2021 will be tabled and voted on during this session. Aside from the attendant political dimensions, which have come into focus due to events in the past month, this is the single most important Bill in charting how Malaysia will attempt to overcome the scourge of the coronavirus over the coming year.

With due respect to our colleagues from the agencies selected by Parliament, we believe that opening the doors to various outlets will offer a more balanced and nuanced coverage of the legislature during this period. This is an issue pertinent not just to the press, but in the benefit of public interest.

The FCCM has written to Parliament on October 19, expressing our disappointment at the decision and our willingness to participate in consultation to find a viable and rigorous solution that meets both health and democratic principles. 

Our base position is that Parliament will not be overrun by press workers if just one representative from each agency is allowed to be present. But we are happy to negotiate with Parliament and other stakeholders on best practices that safeguard both health and press freedom.

However, we are saddened to note that the august House has informed us that the decision made is non-negotiable. We find it ironic that a place to debate policy and lawmaking is itself not open to discourse on decisions it has made unilaterally without consultation with stakeholders. It is shocking that at a time where accusations of fake news are being liberally hurled, Parliament is forcing newsrooms to gamble on obtaining second-hand material and less than ideal levels of verification.

We would like to point out that Parliament has undergone wholesale renovations and upgrading in recent years, that has vastly increased its capacity to serve not just lawmakers, but the needs of the executive arm, as well as other related services that are part and parcel to the legislative process. 

It is alarming that despite this, no solution can be found to allow for all media agencies to cover - albeit restricted and guided by health and safety protocols - this key plank of the democratic process.


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