With Covid-19 restrictions imposed last year on access to Parliament’s press gallery still in place, leaders across party lines are now mounting pressure on presiding officers of both Houses to restore pre-Covid system for Parliamentary reporting.
Denying that the media is discriminated against, officials said MPs are also being made to sit in the visitors’ gallery in keeping with the distancing protocol.
There are various restrictions for the media in place at present. Permanent passes of media personnel covering Parliament are suspended during the session, and access to the press gallery is restricted.
For instance, 32 mediapersons are allowed in Rajya Sabha press gallery on any given day, of which 10 are reserved for official media and news agencies. Temporary passes are not being issued. In normal times, there are 76 seats in the press gallery.
Congress leader in Lok Sabha Adhir Ranjan Chowdhury wrote to Speaker Om Birla: “It is very sad and strange that media is being restricted… from covering proceedings of… Parliament… malls, restaurants, cinema halls, marketplace and other public places have been opened. However, restrictions imposed during pandemic are still on for media persons…”
CPI MP Binoy Viswam has written to Rajya Sabha Chairman M Venkaiah Naidu seeking his intervention to ease the curbs. Viswam wrote, “The essence of our democracy requires that the media be granted unrestricted access to be able to report freely about the sessions of Parliament.”
At Sunday’s all-party meeting, CPI(M) MP John Brittas demanded easing of restrictions on media entry to Parliament and Central Hall. In the meeting, Brittas pointed out, “I said Parliament should not insulate itself from the media…” RSP member N K Premachandran also raised the issue in Sunday’s meeting.
However, officials in Lok Sabha secretariat said that for 60 seats in its press gallery, 100 passes have been issued every day. “The complaint that permanent passes have been cancelled is not correct,” an official said. “They have been suspended only between November 29 and December 23, as the House is in session. Lok Sabha has stopped entry of families of MPs, former MPs, MLAs and even general public during the session.”
The official said, “Media is the only stakeholder that has been accommodated but the number has been brought down.”
The official also denied that regional media was discriminated against.
Representatives of Press Club of India, Delhi Union of Journalists, Press Association and Working News’ Cameraman Association have written an open letter to all leaders on the issue. “We are concerned that there is a depressing trend emerging to isolate parliament and parliamentarians from media gaze…” it said.