A day after National Assembly Speaker Asad Qaiser ordered locking of the press gallery for media during President Dr Arif Alvi’s address to a joint session of parliament, the NA speaker has said that the decision was taken with the consent of the Parliamentary Reporters Association (PRA), a claim which PRA vehemently denied.
Ironically, the PRA denied the NA speaker’s claim and termed it “fake news”. The association said no meeting took place between the speaker and the PRA before and after the presidential address till Tuesday night.
On September 13, in an interaction with the media at the parliament, the speaker said that he had a “discussion” with PRA, saying “whatever decision I took was taken with the consent of PRA”.
“I can’t afford that two groups start fighting there [at press gallery]; resulting in disrespecting the House and the media,” Qaiser said without elaborating anything about the groups in PRA.
However, he admitted that there was a slight “misunderstanding” when he reached an agreement with PRA that only the press gallery would be locked and not the lounge behind it where the journalists sit.
“I had a meeting with PRA today and we both explained things,” the speaker said, adding that PRA is a representative organization and part of the House and it should abide by the traditions of the assembly. “No one should be disrespectful,” he said. In response to a question as to who informed him that there would be commotion at the press gallery, Qaiser said “your people informed me that there would be an uproar”.
In response to the speaker’s statement, PRA’s Secretary General Asif Bashir Chaudhry strongly rejects the statement that the PRA delegation has met the Speaker earlier or on Tuesday. “PRA delegation has not met the Speaker National Assembly nor has the PRA been taken into confidence over the closure of the Press Gallery,” the secretary said, adding “PRA strongly condemns this black lie of the Speaker”. He demanded an inquiry to determine which delegation met and misrepresented the Speaker.
Declaring the speaker’s statement an “outright lie”, Chaudhry said there was no truth to it. “After the darkest day in parliamentary history in which the press gallery was locked, the PRA is consulting on its future strategy and the final decision will be taken in consultation with the PRA members before the National Assembly convenes the next session,” he said, adding the speaker’s statement was an attempt to cover up the issue.
“The PRA once again strongly condemns this statement as misleading,” Chaudhry added.
On Monday, the press gallery was empty as the journalists were barred from entering it when the president addressed the joint sitting of parliament marking the start of the fourth parliamentary year of the National Assembly.
The press gallery was locked and remained closed for the entire session in connection with the PRA’s announcement that it would stage a walk out during the presidential address against the proposed Pakistan Media Development Authority (PMDA) bill – the bill apparently proposing huge financial penalties against fake news.
“It wasn’t just a ban on the press but on the people of Pakistan as journalists are the ear, eyes and voice of the people of Pakistan,” Chaudhry reiterated while regretting that Speaker NA proved that “he is a weak speaker.”