In the midst of the Budget Session of the Parliament in 2020, as the Covid pandemic was beginning to unfold, the media was barred from covering the proceedings of the Parliament to stop the spread of infections.
Eventually, only a handful of mediapersons were allowed, including some from news agencies PTI, UNI, ANI, Hindustan Samachar, and from prominent newspapers. This arrangement continued for the remainder of the year, and it meant that the majority of media persons could now no longer cover the proceedings.
The matter was brought to the attention of the Lok Sabha speaker in the pre-Monsoon Session press conference that he held earlier this week, and he assured that all accredited media people will be allowed to cover the proceedings.
However, the media is still continued to be disbarred from entering the Central Hall, even media persons with Permanent passes.
Several prominent media organisations, under the aegis of the Press Club of India, including the Press Association, the Editors Guild of India, the Delhi Union of Journalists and the Working News Cameramen’s Association deliberated over the issue at the Press Club of India this week.
At the end of two days of deliberation, the associations wrote to the Speaker asking him for his immediate interjection.
Here is the text of the representation sent to the Speaker:
Hon’ble Shri Om Birla,
Speaker, Lok Sabha,
Parliament House, New Delhi
Sub: Coverage of Lok Sabha and Media.
It is our humble submission that we the undersigned media organisations of the country, on behalf of our members, wish to bring on record the various problems faced by members of the press in covering the working of Lok Sabha. We would like to assure you that our members represent journalists from all parts of the country and all languages.
We are concerned that there appears to be a pattern of isolating Parliament and parliamentarians from media scrutiny. To this end, there appears to be a general effort to restrict access to Parliament and its precincts to only a handful of journalists.
We 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.
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. This has been the tradition from the very beginning.
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. We must not let the pandemic spread. We are actually aware of our responsibility in this regard.
It is our humble submission that the Press Advisory Committee of Lok Sabha meeting be held before the Monsoon session beginning on July 19, 2021 for disposal of pending applications and it must be actively associated with the process of streamlining media access to the Press Gallery and the Central Hall in the Covid 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.
As matters stand, the Press Gallery capacity, even allowing for Covid restrictions, is deeply under-utilised. The Monsoon Session of Parliament commences on 19 July, 2021. We request you to consider our demands with sympathy in time for the forthcoming session.
We cannot but urge you also to empathise with the employment aspect. Especially 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.
Media Persons covering 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.
We urge the Hon’ble Speaker to take pro-active steps to restore full access for journalists. Media Passes for all categories must be restored with immediate effect and the process of renewal be started forthwith.
Sanjay Kapoor, General Secretary, Editors Guild of India Jai Shankar Gupta, President, Press Association S. K. Pande, President, Delhi Union of Journalist S. N. Sinha, President, Working News Cameramen's Association Anand K. Sahay, Former President, Press Club of India Anant Bagaitkar, Former Secretary-General, Press Club of India Sri Krishna, Former Vice-President, Press Club of India Shahid K. Abbas, Vice-President, Press Club of India Chander Shekhar Luthra, Joint-Secretary, Press Club of India Sanjay Hegde, Sr. Advocate, Supreme Court of India Arun K. Joshi, Former Treasurer, Press Club of India
Cc: Shri Dharmanand Kamat, Chairman, Lok Sabha Press Advisory Committee