New Delhi: Several prominent media organisations, under the aegis of the Press Club of India, have in a letter to the Lok Sabha speaker Om Birla protested against the denial of normal entry to accredited media persons for covering parliament proceedings. They have also expressed concern that “there appears to be a pattern of isolating Parliament and parliamentarians from media scrutiny”.
In the letter, representatives of various media organisations – which include the Editors Guild of India, Press Association, Delhi Union of Journalist and Working News Cameramen’s Association – and present and past office-bearers of the Press Club of India have also written about a selective approach being adopted in allowing some journalists to visit parliament. “To this end,” they said, “there appears to be a general effort to restrict access to Parliament and its precincts to only a handful of journalists.”
The letter, which has also been signed by senior Supreme Court advocate Sanjay Hegde, also sought to “bring on record the various problems faced by members of the press in covering the working of the Lok Sabha.”
The media organisations wrote that they cannot emphasise enough that the basis of parliamentary democracy is an informed citizenry. “Citizens are informed by a free and independent press. If members of the press are denied normal access to Parliament, they can hardly do their duty of informing their readers,” they said, alluding to why they were seeking normal access to parliament precincts.
The letter further brought to the notice of the speaker that “since the Parliament of India is the nerve centre of political activity in the country, journalists must be allowed access to the Press Gallery and the Central Hall.” It added that “this has been the tradition from the very beginning.”
However, the COVID-19 pandemic disrupted the pattern. “We regret to note that this tradition has been badly jolted in the name of following Covid restrictions. The advent of the pandemic has seen unprecedented barriers on those who can access parliamentary proceedings and its work in committees,” the media organisations pointed out.
Stating that while media persons were aware of their responsibility in ensuring that the pandemic is not allowed to spread, the signatories urged the speaker to hold a meeting of the Press Advisory Committee of the Lok Sabha before the monsoon session begins on July 19, 2021 for disposal of pending applications. They also demanded that this meeting should actively be associated with the process of streamlining media access to the Press Gallery and the Central Hall in the COVID-19 context.
“Eligibility criteria of individuals must remain unchanged. Media coverage, it has to be appreciated, involves daily news reporting as well as contact with leading political figures for insights and analysis,” the media organisations urged Birla, adding that “as matters stand, the Press Gallery capacity, even allowing for Covid restrictions, is deeply under-utilised.”
Seeking that he considers their demands with sympathy in time for the forthcoming session, the letter also urged Birla to empathise with the employment aspect. It referred to how regional news organisations in various languages employ journalists on a part-time basis for the coverage of parliament. “When access for parliamentary reporting and coverage is slashed, these journalists lose their jobs. Across India, journalists have been rendered unemployed in very substantial numbers on account of the pandemic,” it said.
The letter also sought to streamline some processes to ease the working of the journalists. It said, “Media persons covering the Lok Sabha also expect that copies of the various Bills introduced in parliament should be uploaded forthwith and replies of the minister with transcript of question hours should be uploaded immediately. It will greatly help journalists for accurate reporting.”
The media organisations hoped that the speaker would “take pro-active steps to restore full access for journalists”. They also called for restoring media passes for all categories and starting the process of renewal immediate effect.