• The press is performing its duty to inform the public, not ‘picnicking’.
  • Inaccessibility to the media centre inconveniences both members of the press and of Parliament.
  • Members of the press are professionals and should be treated with respect and dignity.
  • Regardless of the intention, the Speaker’s ruling restricts press freedom.

Tan Sri Pandikar Amin Mulia’s decision to block media practitioners from gathering at the Parliament lobby with immediate effect is disgraceful. Pandikar appears insensitive to the needs of the media, whose role is instrumental in protecting public interest and improving public understanding.

I am disappointed at Pandikar’s unsubstantiated and irresponsible allegations that the media has turned the lobby into a “picnic area”. Diligent reporters frequent the Parliament every sitting day regardless of the legislation debated or the issue trending. That the media crew members spend their working hours at the corridors, as opposed to a fully-equipped media centre only highlights the impracticality and ineffectiveness of the Parliament’s current facilities.

Pandikar’s new ruling reduces the efficiency of both members of the press and of Parliament. The vastly increased distance between the new media centre and the Parliament’s sitting area lessens the media’s ability to interact directly with our Members of Parliament (MPs) and federal ministers. Yet, it is crucial for journalists to obtain and verify information right from its sources — oftentimes the MPs and cabinet members themselves — to ensure the delivery of credible and trustworthy news to the rakyat. Similarly, as an MP, it is inconvenient and a waste of time to travel between distant locations to fulfil both our responsibilities to attend parliamentary sitting and conduct press briefings. It seems timely to remind Pandikar that for the MPs and cabinet members to be answerable to the rakyat who elected them, the media must be allowed to act effectively as the conduit between.

Media practitioners are trained professionals who perform a duty to the public and therefore, should be treated with dignity and respect. It is unbecoming of the Speaker of Parliament of a democracy, scheduled to join the league of developed nations in three years, to trivialise the media’s important role by equating the way they mind their duties to picnicking. The ruling coalition has enjoyed a majority seating at Parliament for almost 60 years. That our unchanging government has been unable to provide a parliamentary media centre that is conducive for the press to perform their obligations as the Fourth Estate clearly shows its ineptitude in management, and is not a relfection of the media’s discipline. After all, it is not where members of media spend their time that determines their professionalism, but the accuracy, timeliness, reliability and integrity of their stories.

In all likelihood, I worry that Pandikar’s ruling is another attempt to crack down on the freedom of press in Malaysia. According to the 2016 World Media Freedom Index by Reporters Without Borders, Malaysia already ranks a dismal 146 out of 180 countries. Regardless of its intention, the new ruling appears to further tighten the lid on freedom of press and to control information flows. The rakyat have every right to be informed of everything that is debated at Parliament. As the Speaker of Parliament, Tan Sri Pandikar, of all people should facilitate the Parliament’s engagement with the public.

Last parliamentary session, Members of Parliament were disallowed from raising questions about 1MDB at the August House. This parliamentary session, the gag order creeps further into our democracy as the media too has been restricted.

Last year, I again tabled a Private Member’s Bill for the Parliament to review and even repeal the Printing Presses and Publications Act 1984 (Amendment 1987). Although my motion was rejected and the Malaysian democracy remains muzzled, my commitment towards a free and fair media environment remains steadfast.

I sincerely hope the Speaker will reconsider his decision to curtail media access. Together, the Parliament, its members and the press must work together to create a better informed nation.

Member of Parliament for Lembah Pantai
Vice President and Co-Election Director of KEADILAN