ONE would have expected that with all
the promises of more transparency during
the recent general election that the
Fourth Estate would at least have greater access to information. This
appears not to be the case.
Beginning June 12, reporters will not be
allowed to mingle with the newly elected
wakil rakyat in the hallowed lobby of
Their movements will be restricted to the Dewan Rakyat,
the press room, a room next to the
the banquet hall on the second floor
for interviews, and, of course, the
Up to late Friday afternoon, there was
no official announcement of the new ruling. It was only Saturday morning that the Information
Ministry issued a two-page press release
on the matter.
It is not clear whether reporters can
still make their way to the Dewan Rakyat office to pick up copies of the seating arrangement and any Bills tabled for debate.
Also, the press will now have to use the
rear entrance to the building reserved
for tradesmen in the tradition of
Although the Dewan Rakyat and Dewan
Negara are the designated areas for
serious public business what is
witnessed, more often than not, is the
art of sandiwara.
It is in the lobby that the exchange of information between government and opposition MPs takes place
under the watchful eyes of the
media if not within their earshot.
The new ruling has caught almost all MPs and reporters by surprise, and initial
inquries to former Dewan Rakyat speaker
Tan Sri Zahir Ismail and his deputy, Ong Tee
Keat, drew a blank.
Zahir only commented on the new ruling
after The Star went back to him with
more details on Friday.
Apart from the canteen, the lobby has always been the favourite meeting place for MPs, government officials,
and the press during the debate
Most MPs head for the lobby or canteen
immediately after "question time'' is over and only go back after half or one hour's break.
In the past, MPs, pressmen and even
ministers exchanged information openly in the corridors, the canteen and at the lobby.
The lobby is where MPs congregate as they enter and leave Dewan Rakyat.It is in the lobby that reporters get
access to ministers, deputy ministers,
and government officials who are
The Prime Minister's Department and the Home Ministry, for example, have very tight security, and a reporter cannot just walk in to meet a minister or an official for informal chats.
The new ruling is also going to make it
hard for reporters inside the Dewan to
clarify points raised by ministers,
deputy ministers, parliamentary
secretaries, and MPs during the
question-and-answer session or the debate.
Zahir said that reporters could make
known their desire to meet any minister
or MP by sending him a note through the
This is being done already. But what
happens if the MP walks out soon after
his speech or before the usher is able
to pass him or her the note?
And like other Commonwealth parliament
practices, whenever government or
opposition MPs stage a walkout, it is
the lobby they head for. Or what happens
when the sitting is adjourned for a few minutes to allow MPs embroiled in a heated exchange to cool off?
If the argument spills out, as has
happened before, into the lobby
during the "cooling-off period,'' it
will remain a well-kept secret because this exchange will not be
recorded in the Hansard.
TV stations will lose its spontaneity edge of recording a fight in progress if
limited to showing an interview with an MP who witnessed the verbal or physical exchange.
Former DAP MPLeeLam Thye and former
deputy labour minister Datuk K.
Pathmanaban once continued their heated argument at the lobby after they had thrown challenges to
each other inside the Dewan.
As fellow MPs rushed to the lobby, with some heckling Pathmanaban, then law
minister Datuk Syed Hamid Albar tried to
pacifyLee and Pathmanaban, both usually
noted for their moderation and cool.
It is such drama and excitement that
makes Dewan Rakyat a lively place for
More recently, Kota Melaka MP Lim Guan
Eng brought to the lobby the grandmother
of the schoolgirl involved in a
It is unclear whether reporters will be
given a reprieve during the year-end
tabling of the Budget where they have
historically been able to seek the
reactions of MPs, particularly heads of
parties, on the Budget.
No one, including Zahir, is prepared to say how this ruling came about and why was it necessary. The press release by the Information Ministry
does not give any reasons either.
In his six years as the MP for Ampang
Jaya, former Dewan Rakyat deputy speaker Ong said he had not come across a situation where a reporter had caused trouble in the
Asked whether it is perhaps to prevent
the harassment of MPs, Ong said: "Harassment for an MP happens anywhere,
even in a washroom.''
Asked whether the wakil rakyat should be
protected from the press, seeing as the
public have to apply for permission to
attend the meetings and are restricted to the gallery and the canteen, he said: "As far as I'm concerned, the
public and reporters should have
access to the MPs even if a question
posed is not palatable.''
Other MPs have speculated that the move
is to discourage certain lobbyists who
take the opportunity to seek favours
from ministers at the lobby.
Zahir said that one of the objections by certain MPs to the presence of
reporters in the lobby was that they
were often seen sitting on the sofas
meant for MPs.
If reporters have occupied the sofas,
they have ventured into the area
specifically marked "For MPs Only''
where the sofas are hidden behind
screens and telephones are provided for
the use of the MPs.
They only enter that hallowed ground if
invited by an MP.
It is a sad day when MPs can "buttonhole'' reporters in the restricted zones, but the Executive and other wakil rakyat can dodge questions in turn.