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'Arbitrary': Journalists Slam Restrictions on Their Access to Parliament Building

The restrictions in place prevent journalists from accessing Press Gallery, Central Hall and executive wing in the parliament, which had earlier enabled them to interact freely with MPs.

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New Delhi: Protesting against the restrictions imposed on media persons covering parliament proceedings, a large group of journalists took out a march from the Press Club of India to Parliament House in Delhi on Thursday, December 2.

The restrictions in place prevent journalists from accessing Press Gallery, Central Hall and executive wing in the parliament building, which had earlier enabled them to interact freely with MPs. The protesting journalists alleged that only a handful of media representatives were being allowed now.

Journalists marched carrying banners that demanded press freedom. The main banner read “Protest March By Journalists Against Restrictions on Media Entry Into Parliament” while others read “We are for freedom of Press”, “Azaadi do (Give freedom)”, “Restore entry of journalists into the Parliament”, and “Covid kaal main patrakaron par pabandi bandh karo (Stop restrictions on journalists in these times of Covid)”. Among those who marched were office bearers of the Press Club of India.

The journalists demanded the restrictions be removed with immediate effect, and termed the restrictions “arbitrary”.

Demands

The protest was jointly organised by the Press Club of India, Editors Guild of India, Press Association, Indian Women’s Press Corps, Delhi Union of Journalists, and Working News Cameraman Association.

A memorandum was submitted to Lok Sabha speaker and chairman of Rajya Sabha with a list of five prominent demands. It called for the entry of all journalists having permanent passes to the Parliament Complex and the Press Gallery be restored.

The journalists urged authorities concerned to “implement the previous decision” taken by the speaker of Lok Sabha in July 2021 to allow all journalists holding permanent passes into Parliament. The memorandum also sought to restore the entry of veteran journalists into the Central Hall of Parliament.

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It further demanded that the “L&D category for senior and veteran journalists” be restored as a mark of honour in recognising their long service in the profession.

The protest also called for the reconstitution of the Press Advisory Committee at the earliest.

Opposition extends support

Speaking about the need for the protest, the president of Press Club of India, Umakant Lakhera, said at a meeting that preceded the protest march, “During the session, the parliament becomes the hub of information and news. So, if you stop a journalist from doing his or her work, you are simply restricting them from performing their duty.”

During the meeting, it was also pointed out that as parliament is the nerve centre of political activity in the country, the media, therefore, has the responsibility to inform the general public about the issues being raised on the floor of the House.

As such, the journalists said it was important to provide them with access to both the legislative and executive premises of the parliament.

Earlier, on November 31, 2021, the leader of opposition in Rajya Sabha, Mallikarjun Kharge, had also written to chairman M. Venkaiah Naidu to express his “deep anguish and shock that for the fifth consecutive session of Parliament, only a handful of representatives of media organisations are being allowed access to the Press Gallery”.

Kharge had also stated in the letter that “rearranging seating arrangements in the Press Gallery to follow Covid-19 protocols is acceptable. However, forbidding and preventing media into the very premises of the campus of the Parliament, including access to the Central Hall and Library, is not acceptable”.

He, therefore, had urged Naidu to “resolve the matter so that the media can continue their duty life before without any restrictions”.

Meanwhile, the All India Trinamool Congress has also extended its support to the protest by journalists.

Party MP and national spokesperson Derek O’Brien handed over a statement of solidarity from party chief Mamata Banerjee and other senior leaders to the president of Press Club Umakant Lakhera and general secretary Vinay Kumar.

The statement by Trinamool Congress said, “Parliament is the heart of our democracy and reporting on it is a cherished democratic tradition. A free and robust media is the soul of parliamentary democracy. Right to free speech, freedom of expression and thought are the foundations of a vibrant democracy.”

The TMC, therefore, demanded “immediate restoration of all facilities to the journalists to cover Parliament so that the institution is strengthened”.

It also pointed out that “India ranks 142 in the World Press Freedom Index out of 180 countries. This is going further down. Even a couple of years ago, we were at 136, now at 142”.