LETTER | Gerakan Media Merdeka (Geramm) regrets the latest ruling by parliament administrators that limits the number of media organisations allowed to cover the upcoming Dewan Rakyat sitting from Nov 2 to Dec 23.
Only 15 organisations comprising 14 local agencies and one foreign media outlet have been permitted entry on grounds of compliance with Covid-19 prevention standard operating procedures.
Even worse, the list did not allow any local online media outlets to be present and cover the session that also includes tabling of Budget 2021.
Each agency aside from RTM and Bernama is only allowed to send one journalist and one photographer/videographer, in addition to undergoing a mandatory Covid-19 screening before reporting for duty.
While still taking into account the need to protect the safety of all parties, particularly the media on duty, Geramm strongly rejects any move that could represent undue restrictions on freedom of the press to carry out our duties.
Instead, we call on responsible parties to facilitate broad media coverage by opening a larger room in parliament, in compliance with physical distancing requirements.
Taking as example coverage of the annual budget, media will gather at the Dewan Rakyat to get first-hand reactions from parliamentarians and ministers.
This will be followed by coverage on the debate of the Supply Bill (Budget) 2021.
Beyond merely recording any statements, media has an important role to question any planned expenditure of public funds.
Therefore, it is of utmost importance for parliament administrators to open up a larger space so that all media organisations can be present throughout the entire session.
Previously the media were free to conduct interviews around the parliament building and Geramm hopes that the current movement restriction will not be used as an excuse by any parliamentarians or ministers to avoid answering any arising questions.
There must be an avenue for the media to access parliamentarians or ministers who should be present at a designated press conference area to provide any needed explanations.
Among the media's key role is to play a role in the check and balance system - to 'look after' the government so that its function remains in compliance with the law and regulations.
The government does not need to 'look after' the media because the media will look after the media!
We are in solidarity.