Lift the restrictions on media coverage of Parliament on May 18

The government should lift restrictions on media coverage of Parliament on 18.

It is bad enough that it will be a one-day Parliament sitting, making a complete mockery of parliamentary oversight and scrutiny against abuses of power, rampant corruption, revival of kleptocracy and widespread violation of human rights

But the restrictions on media coverage is adding “salt to injury” as it will be the thin end of the wedge to control information and communication to impose media censorship in the country.

I do not believe that it is impossible to accommodate the media’s request to ensure full access to Parliament while adhering to effective “social distancing” measures for the Parliamentary session on May 18 and I call on Parliament to discuss with media representatives to ensure that parliamentary coverage on May 18 will not have to depend solely on “official media”.

The one-sided coverage of the “official media” of the Malacca State Assembly proceeding on Monday and the even more shocking coverage of the “official media” on yesterday’s Perak State Assembly proceeding are examples why media freedom cannot and should not be restricted to “official media” - which is in fact a contradiction in terms, as the role of an official media is totally different from the role of a free and independent media!

A good example of the difference of the official media and a free and independent media is that the “official media” did not zero in on the issue of the trespassers in the Perak State Assembly yesterday, to inquire as to why the “men-in-black” were trespassers as they did not have the Speaker’s permission to be present in the Assembly and whose real motive was the criminal one to physically drag the Speaker from the Speaker’s Chair – as happened in the infamous episode in 2009 where the Perak Speaker V. Sivakumar was physically dragged out of the Speaker’s Chair.

The lockdown of Parliament to impose a lockdown of parliamentary oversight and scrutiny of the government in the Covid-19 pandemic is already making the Malaysian Parliament a laughing-stock in the world.

The government’s restriction of media coverage of Parliament to “official media” can only attract great international ignominy as it is nothing but an insidious attempt to extend lockdown of parliamentary oversight and scrutiny to national and international oversight and scrutiny – the very antithesis of an open, transparent, accountable and responsible government.

The police should drop all investigation on journalist Tashny Sukumaran over her news report of authorities arresting undocumented migrants.

Under the 22-month Pakatan Harapan government, there was “a breath of fresh air” in freedom of the press, with Malaysia jumping 44 spots in the Reporters Without Borders (RSF) annual World Press Freedom Index in the past two years, from 145 to 123 in 2019 and then to 101 in 2020.

In less than 100 days, the Perikaatan Nasional government is already backsliding on press freedom, as shown in Tashny’s arrest and the “official media” rule for Parliament.

Will Malaysia’s Press Freedom Index next year make further improvements or will it backslide?

Lim Kit Siang MP for Iskandar Puteri