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Government measures seek to restrict media access to Parliament

(SEAPA/IFEX) - Media advocates in Malaysia are calling on the government to explain the new limitations recently placed on journalists' access to Parliament. In a statement issued on 25 June 2008, the Centre for Independent Journalism (CIJ), SEAPA's Alerts partner in Kuala Lumpur, said it is "deeply concerned about the ban imposed by the Parliament on journalists in the Parliament lobby."

On 24 and 25 June, the online daily Malaysiakini.com ( http://www.malaysiakini.com/ ) reported that the Parliament lobby - the place where members of Parliament meet, hold informal meetings and answer questions by journalists - has been cordoned off to prevent media from accessing the area.

Four days earlier, the Parliament had issued a letter to the media which said it would limit access to coverage of Parliament to only five representatives from each medium. The restrictions are being protested by the National Union of Journalist (NUJ) and some parliamentarians.

CIJ says the new rules are premised on "security concerns". However, "the presence of journalists in the Parliament lobby should not be seen as a security liability, as they have an important duty to report to the public. Restricting the number of journalists in public institutions such as the Parliament is tantamount to restricting freedom of the press," said CIJ.

The group noted that Parliament already "imposes strict conditions for reporters to cover, and online news sites (in fact) have to apply for special passes, as they do not have the accreditation tags issued by the Information Ministry." On this ground, CIJ rejected the statement by Deputy Speaker Wan Junaidi Tuanku Jaafar suggesting the presence of journalists leads to a "chaotic" Parliament.

"We ask Wan Junaidi to retract his statement and to apologise to journalists who are performing their duties in reporting on not only the parliamentary proceedings but also issues and statements discussed in the lobby," CIJ's statement said. "In addition, Speaker Pandikar Amin Mulia must spell out the alleged security concerns and explain the threats he is referring to that warrant such a ban. Without clear justification and an explanation, the order smacks of an attempt to minimise the coverage of . . . the current political scenario in the country. Otherwise, journalists should be allowed to move freely in the Parliament to perform their duties."

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