NEW DELHI–The Press Club of India has demanded the restoration of full access for media personnel within the Parliament premises to pre-Covid 19 days as it was essential to promote ‘a vibrant and informed citizenry and democracy.’
In a letter to Lok Sabha Speaker Om Birla on Thursday, Press Club president Umakant Lakhera and secretary general Vinay Kumar said that as the new Parliament building is being inaugurated on May 28, they would like to draw his attention towards what they called “the continuous and unrelenting restrictions on the entry of journalists and reporters covering Parliamentary proceedings over the last several sessions.”
They demanded that the dysfunctional Lok Sabha Press Advisory Committee be reconstituted immediately.
The duo stated that while various sectors such as malls, cinema halls, restaurants, schools, and public places had resumed their operations at pre-pandemic levels, “it is disheartening to note that journalists are still being deprived of their rightful access to the Parliament press gallery.”
They said that a large number of journalists covering Parliament proceedings for the last several decades were being denied the opportunity to cover Parliament proceedings despite having permanent press gallery passes.
The Press Club leaders acknowledged that these restrictions on media persons were enforced during the budget session of 2020, in the wake of the COVID-19 pandemic and the concurrent government restrictions.
They referred to their repeated efforts to draw the attention of the Speaker on various occasions towards what they called “superfluous restrictions having no logical basis or rationale” as the situation gradually eased.
The office bearers said that the restriction on entry of the journalists into Parliament was not supported with any tangible reason or argument.
They expressed their strong feeling that these curbs were part of “a wider agenda aimed at controlling the media and restricting freedom of the press.”
The letter mentioned that the restrictions were meant “to impede the free flow of independent news stories and information to the people of the largest democracy of the world.”
The letter suggested that the media was constantly being excused under the garb of COVID-19 guidelines even though no such restrictions exist in the rest of the country or in Delhi either in public places or in community gatherings etc.
The two office bearers drew their attention towards the World Health Organization’s declaration on 5th May 2023, that COVID-19 was no longer a global health emergency.
They showed deep concerns over the ongoing restrictions as those severely impeded the dissemination of vital information to the public. They said that the restrictions inhibited their right to know “which directly impacts the freedom of the press as enshrined in Article 19 of the Constitution.”
The letter talked about numerous opposition leaders who had consistently demanded the immediate withdrawal of such restrictions on media persons in Central Hall and Parliament press gallery.
It said, “Several political party leaders have also personally approached you urging the restoration of media access to its pre-CóVID-19 status.”
The office bearers said, “It is deeply concerning that despite repeated requests from the Press Club of India and other distinguished journalist bodies, including the Editor’s Guild of India, no significant steps have been taken to rectify this anti-journalist stance.”
They termed the implementation of a pick-and-choose policy for the entry of journalists based on a lottery system or selective tactics alarming, arbitrary and unjustified.
They said, “Such practices are highly unfair and undermine the principles of fairness and equal access to information.”
The two media leaders alleged that those restrictions had not only impeded the media’s ability to report on parliamentary proceedings but had also severed the vital line of communication between government, media and Parliamentarians. “Such hindrance obstructs the democratic exchange of ideas, limits public discourse, and weakens the accountability and transparency of the Parliamentary system.”
They urged the Speaker to take immediate action to restore the pre-COVID-19 situation concerning the entry of media persons into the press gallery and the central hall of the Parliament.
They said, “We have also been made aware that the new Parliament building lacks a Central Hall, which appears to be a deliberate attempt to create a barrier between Parliamentarians, and media persons.”
The office bearers asked the Speaker to address this matter with urgent importance and to ensure that necessary action is taken to resolve the situation.