Govt may bar media from NA committees
* Mulls introducing ‘Code of Ethics’ to regulate media reporting
By Shahzad Raza
ISLAMABAD: Top government officials and members of the military establishment have been so irked by press coverage of National Assembly (NA) standing committees that they have proposed barring journalists from attending them, official sources told Daily Times on Monday.
They said that NA speaker Chaudhry Amir Hussain had recently held talks with chairpersons of standing committees open to the media to draw up a strategy to deal with the ‘problem’. The NA speaker, they stressed, had acted on directives from the top political leadership, which believed that instead of attending sessions, the press should simply be given a handout of proceedings.
According to sources, government officials had repeatedly warned Hussain as well as committee chairpersons that press reporting of proceedings routinely jeopardised the ‘national interest’.
Currently, five of the 35 NA standing committees remain open to the media: Public Accounts Committee (PAC), standing committees on local government, population welfare, food and agriculture and interior.
The NA standing committee on water and power had previously been open to the press. Its new chairperson, however, has barred journalists from attending its proceedings.
Under NA rules, committee chairpersons are authorised to allow journalists to sit in on proceedings to ensure the system’s transparency and to hold relevant officials directly accountable to the people.
Sources said that during Hussain’s talks with committee chairpersons, the idea of establishing a ‘Code of Ethics’ had been floated to regulate press coverage of proceedings. Also discussed was the idea of chairpersons declaring sensitive parts of the proceedings ‘off-the-record’. Government officials, however, made it clear that committee chairpersons would bear responsibility for any controversy created through media reports.
Sources said that the NA speaker specifically expressed concern over reporting of PAC proceedings, noting that opposition members often levelled serious allegations against the government, which were subsequently reported by the press.
The government had, until last year, kept secret PAC proceedings.
Sources noted that a PAC treasury member had recently demanded that its proceedings be held in-camera, saying that opposition members regularly levelled sensational charges against the government to secure column inches.
Neither the government not the opposition have so far issued a formal response to these claims.