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Bold move as Asad Qaiser locks journalists out of Parliament?

National Assembly Speaker Asad Qaiser barred journalists and media from attending the Presidential address at the Parliament. He locked the media gallery. Interestingly, neither the President nor Minister for Information and Broadcasting Fawad Chaudhry had any knowledge of this. The act sparked outrage as journalists called it "illegal."

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National Assembly Speaker Asad Qaiser ordered the locking of the press gallery during a joint session of parliament. As a result, journalists staged a protest sit-in outside his office.

The protestors first staged a protest at the main entrance of the Parliament House then shifted to the Speaker’s Office. Opposition members for PPP and PML-N also joined the protesting journalists.

According to protestors, Asad Qaiser’s decision to bar media presence during President Alvi’s address at parliament was “unconstitutional.”

Parliamentary Reporters’ Association (PRA) termed the speaker’s act a violation of Article 19 of the Constitution regarding freedom of the press.

Read more: Who is promoting narrative of suppression of freedom of expression in Pakistan?

The journalists, including senior reporters, remained outside during the entire process and kept on chanting slogans against Asad Qaiser’s act. They also termed it “illegal.”

Asad Qaiser locks press gallery: Why?

The action of the speaker came in the wake of the call given by the PRA to stage a walkout from the press gallery during the president’s address. They also planned to join their colleagues protesting outside the Parliament House against the government’s plan to set up Pakistan Media Development Authority (PMDA).

Since Sunday, journalists have been protesting against the PMDA. According to the journalists’ community, PMDA is an attempt by the government to stifle the media’s voice. They said the government was trying to impose a “media martial law.”

Regarding this, the PRA announced that reporters would boycott the presidential address in protest against the proposed media authority.

Read more: Is press freedom under seige in Pakistan?

Therefore, Asad Qaiser ordered the closure of galleries. He apprehended protests and walkouts by the parliamentary reporters against the proposed PDMA legislation.

Sources claim Asad Qaiser had information that the walkout would turn hostile as there were disagreements among factions of PRA. In order to prevent that, he locked the press gallery.

Interestingly, neither the President nor Minister for Information and Broadcasting Fawad Chaudhry had any knowledge of this.

Solidarity with journalists

Several politicians, including former prime minister Shahid Khaqan Abbasi, PML-N information sec­retary Marriyum Aurangzeb and MNA Mohsin Dawar, visited the protesting camp. They expressed solidarity with journalists.

Also, the Supreme Court Bar Association (SCBA) recently announced its support for journalists in their fight against the proposed media authority.

Similarly, the Human Rights Commission of Pakistan expressed serious concern over the proposed authority.

Important to note, Special Assistant to the Prime Minister Ali Nawaz Awan termed the closure of the National Assembly’s press gallery during the joint Parliamentary session “wrong”.

Read more: Freedom of expression vs anti-state propaganda: What should Pakistan do?

The matter did not remain local as the International Press Institute (IPI), a global network of editors, media executives, and journalists also expressed its support for the protesting journalists in Pakistan.

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