P Ramakrishnan slams the decision to bar independent news portals from covering proceedings in Parliament.
First, the backdoor government reduced the number of days that Parliament could meet; then the hours were reduced for the proceedings; this was followed by a curtailment of MPs who could be present in the chambers at any one time – reducing the number to 80 MPs, a mere 36% of the 222 elected MPs who could have debated Budget 2021.
Now they have banned independent online news portals from reporting the proceedings of Parliament. As a result, there has been a near total blackout of independent news coverage from Parliament the last five days.
Famous and familiar news portals like Malaysiakini, Free Malaysia Today, the Malay Mail Online, Malaysia Chronicle and others were not able to provide reports from Parliament. These portals would instantaneously bring us news, summaries, independent comments and analyses and keep us abreast with the implications of what is proposed in Parliament. This opportunity to be well-informed by a broader range of views was buried by keeping these portals away from Parliament and denying them their presence to report.
Previous sessions of Parliament under the Barisan Nasional and Pakatan Harapan governments did not prevent these online news portals from reporting parliamentary proceedings in person. It is only on this occasion – this third term of the 14th Parliament session at the third sitting under the backdoor government – that Malaysians are denied their right to know what is happening during the parliamentary session from a range of independent sources.
Our right to information has been deliberately denied undemocratically and in a sinister manner. This is something we cannot – and will not – accept meekly. The PN government will be made to pay dearly for this at the next general election.
It costs taxpayers a bomb every time Parliament meets and yet we are now denied news regarding what takes place there. We would like to know what is being discussed and what is being decided. We would like to know what policies are being debated and how they would benefit the people and country.
Budget 2021 is very important and will affect the country tremendously. We would like to know where the money will come from to finance the projects under the Budget. If money has to be borrowed for this, the burden of settling the debt has to be borne by taxpayers. We, who have to shoulder this burden, have a right to this information.
It is alleged that domestic debt stands at over a trillion ringgit. How will this be settled and where will the money come from? What taxes are going to be imposed or increased to raise the much-needed money to service this monstrous debt? It is we, our children and grandchildren who will be saddled with this burden for many, many years.
All this useful information has been blacked out by banning the more independent online news portals from being present in Parliament. These news portals used to provide up-to-date news almost immediately to a nation that looked forward to such information and independent analyses with much expectation. A total ban on these independent online news portals would imply a deliberate decision to keep Malaysians in the dark. This is nothing but suppression of information to keep the people ignorant.
Why this discrimination? Why only allow government-owned, government-linked and establishment media agencies access to Parliament? Is it because these agencies are capable of reporting one-sided news that will project the backdoor government in a better light?
The coverage of the current Parliament proceedings has been limited to the following 14 local news agencies and one foreign agency: Radio Television Malaysia (RTM), Bernama, TV Al-Hijrah, TV3, New Straits Times, Berita Harian, Astro Awani, Utusan Malaysia, Sinar Harian, The Star, The Sun, Sin Chew Daily, Nanyang Siang Pau, Malaysia Nanban and Channel News Asia.
From the list, it would appear that the state is determined to control the narrative of how and by whom information is to be made available to the public by totally excluding news portals “which operate exclusively online”.
The executive director of the Centre for Independent Journalism (CIJ), Wathshlah G Naidu, demanded, “We would like to ask how Parliament determined which media should be allowed to cover the proceedings. In particular, why online news portals were sidelined?”
National Union of Journalists Malaysia (NUJ) president Farah Marshita Abdul Patah asserted, “Based on the principle of media freedom and transparent government, local portals should be given the same voice and right to provide coverage, especially on issues involving national interest.”
According to Farah Marshita, the decision to limit the number of media agencies would only give the impression that the media were still under government and political control.
The Editors’ Association (Chinese Medium) Malaysia, in a statement, called for a review. It said there was ample space in Parliament to allow journalists to perform their duties while complying with Covid-19 measures.
There is a wide range of disenchantment with the backdoor government for interfering with the functioning of these online portals and denying them their right to report news from Parliament.
Malaysians demand that these online news portals be granted their rightful role to report the proceedings from Parliament.
Noam Chomsky, the renowned public intellectual, rightly observed, “He who controls the media controls the minds of the public.”
Added to this, there is yet a greater danger, as stated by Christopher Dodd: “When the public’s right to know is threatened, and when the rights of free speech and free press are at risk, all of the other liberties we hold dear are endangered.”