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Apr 27, 2020

Media Barred from Entering House at Start of Special Sitting

While the debate was inside the house, outside a very worrisome situation developed this morning.  On Friday, a plan was worked out among the media to pool resources so that there would be three cameras and the same number of reporters inside the House all practicing social distancing guidelines. The footage would be shared among the media houses.  But on Sunday, the media was informed that the Government Press Office would provide live streaming of the meetings. This morning, it escalated to the point where the reporters were barred for about forty minutes from entering the House at the start of the Special Sitting. After explicit outrage of the media, reporters were finally allowed to proceed inside using the required masks. Now, in the past weeks, they have been no press conferences, the PM addresses the nation via recorded statement, the Ministry of Health broadcasts the Ask the Experts series, and most government departments are closed. The state of emergency has imposed severe restrictions on our movements, so the work of keeping the nation informed and accurately so, is at grave risk. Now, this morning’s live stream of the House Meeting by the Press Office left much to be desired and our fears were confirmed with the constant breaks in transmission. We say all this because our work is severely handicapped and importantly, there is no accountability by the leaders.  We say that COVID-19 must not be a way to exercise a new form of censorship and the public’s right to access official information needs to be protected. The PM gave a very brief statement on the matter.

 

Dean Barrow

Prime Minister Dean Barrow

“We don’t want to exclude the media, but it might be that not every media house can come in. The galleries are not exactly overflowing with space, but there must be a way to work on it. Just as how we had agreed with the Opposition only seven of us will come out together for tomorrow at the Senate—it is two U.D.P.s, one P.U.P. and one social partner—so the other social partners have as well given up representation so that we can maintain social distancing. I don’t see any reason why the media couldn’t do something like that. But to have the media blocked out completely, I don’t agree with that.”

 

In a letter issued late this evening from the Office of the Clerk of the National Assembly, “the Speaker of the House of Representatives did not issue any instruction to disallow the media from entering the building or Chamber of the Assembly and cover the proceedings of this morning’s Special Sitting of the House. As provided by the Standing Orders of the House, no one has the authority to disallow the public, including the media, who are required to attend and cover these proceedings, to enter the precincts of the Assembly, except the Speaker of the House, who would give such instruction to the Clerk so that this instruction can be carried out by the police officers.”


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