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Media access to parliament proceedings tightened

(CIJ/IFEX) - The Centre for Independent Journalism (CIJ) is concerned that journalists are being restricted from covering the parliament proceedings by seemingly sudden and unannounced tightening of security rules. As the parliament is first and foremost a public institution, restricting journalists from its proceedings is tantamount to restricting the public's right to know.

Online news site Malaysiakini reported on 29 June that several journalists from dailies "New Straits Times", "the Sun" and "Nanyang", and online news portals Merdeka Review as well as Malaysiakini were disallowed from covering the proceedings for not having valid official media tags. Among those affected were beat reporters with whom the security team are familiar. One journalist confirmed she had been allowed in the last two weeks since the parliament resumed sitting this month. Sources in some of the newsrooms mentioned above told CIJ that while the rule requiring journalists to have a valid media tag has always been in place, the enforcement has been discretionary.

While the parliament's security needs are undeniable, CIJ thinks that blocking journalists for procedural reasons is contentious especially when the enforcement of the security rules has been inconsistently applied. As an institution that is expected to be highly public, the security team should have allowed for ample prior notice to senior journalists to renew their expired tags or for the new journalists to get theirs ready.

Sporadic tightening of security rules raises questions about the practices of transparency and uncertainties for press freedom. On 30 June 2009, parliament debated the Enforcement Agency Integrity Commission (Siap) Bill, said to be a watered down compromise of the proposed Special Complaints Commission that was introduced to replace the recommendation by a Royal Commission for an Independent Police Complaints and Misconduct Commission (IPCMC).

These could have been avoided if the expectations to follow rules and regulations are clearly and consistently made both in theory and practice.

CIJ maintains that restricting journalists is a breach of press freedom and urges all public institutions not to subject journalists and media to ad hoc or undue restrictions.

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