NA speaker says gallery
was closed to avoid clash
between groups of journalists

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ISLAMABAD: National Assembly Speaker Asad Qaiser has claimed that he had ordered the closure of the press gallery during President Dr Arif Alvi’s address to a joint session of parliament after getting reports about possible clash between the two journalists’ groups.

Talking informally to the reporters here on Wednesday, the speaker claimed that he had taken the step-in consultation with the Parliamentary Reporters Association (PRA).

Pakistan Peoples Party’s Chairman Bilawal Bhutto Zardari addressing at the protest meeting at the entrance of National Assembly. Opposition leader and PML-N’s head Shehbaz Sharif stands right.

“I could not afford to see the two groups fight. It would have been an insult of the journalists and the house,” he said, while justifying his act of closing the press gallery for the first time in the country’s parliamentary history, Dawn has reported.

The speaker also said that he met a PRA delegation on Tuesday (today) and the issue would be resolved. Hours after the speaker’s statement, the PRA categorically refuted the speaker’s claim and challenged him to name the journalists who met him as PRA representatives.

“There is no truth in the reports that a PRA delegation met the speaker on Tuesday,” says a statement issued by the PRA’s information secretary Malik Saeed Awan. He also denied the speaker’s claim that the association was on board when he took the decision to close down the press gallery.

PPP to continue struggle for media: Bilawal Bhutto

ISLAMABAD: Chairman Pakistan Peoples Party (PPP), Bilawal Bhutto Zardari on Monday reiterated the PPPs resolve to continue its struggle for independence of media and rights of the journalists.

Speaking on the occasion of participation in the sit-in staged by the journalist’s community outside parliament building to express the PPP’s solidarity with them, he said that this is not the first time the journalists are protesting against a black law. Journalists fought against similar laws by dictators General Ayub Khan, General Zia-ul-Haq and General Musharraf.

Bilawal Bhutto said, Shaheed Mohtarma Benazir Bhutto after taking charge as the prime minister had abolished all restrictions against journalists. We had removed all restrictions imposed by General Musharraf and cleansed of the constitution from all such restrictions and black laws through 18th amendment.

Pakistan Peoples Party’s Chairman Bilawal Bhutto Zardari addressing at the protest meeting at the entrance of National Assembly. Opposition leader and PML-N’s head Shehbaz Sharif stands right.

He said that the PPP is against PECA and it is against PMDA. This PMDA is an attack on journalists, democracy, judiciary and the right of employment of journalists. We will oppose this PMDA in parliament and every forum. PPP Jiyalas will join you wherever you give a call all over Pakistan, he added.

Responding to questions by senior journalists like Hamid Mir, Aasma Shairzi and others the Chairman PPP said that the draft of PMDA is the same draft which the government wanted to impose as an ordinance. If the government bulldozes it in the parliament we will challenge it in courts. We have doubts that this government will pass this law in a joint session of the parliament but we will challenge it at every available forum.

Vehicles of the Pakistan army pass by journalists holding a protest against a new proposed media law outside parliament in Islamabad, on Monday.

He said that the PPP will raise two issues in the parliament, one is journalists struggle against the black law PMDA and other issue is of sacking 20 thousand employees unjustifiably by the court. If the parliament can reinstate the Chief Justice of Supreme Court then why can it not reinstate sacked employees? These employees were first sacked in 1997 when they were about 30 years old and now they are sacked again when most of them have crossed 50 years of age.

Bilawal Bhutto said that the responses which we have received from the high officials and police department about the attacks on journalists are not satisfactory and the effected journalists are also not satisfied with these responses. He said that all the political parties have similar stand on the independence of media. Replying a question about his relations with the opposition politicians Chairman PPP said that he has very good relations with all of them and Maulana Fazlur Rehman is doing politics for decades with the PPP and he has a lot of respect for him. He said that we can have difference of opinion politically.

He said that every dictator wanted to weaken the journalists but the journalists stood by the truth in the era of General Zia and Musharraf. The journalists have the capacity to wash out this black law called PMDA. He said that as long as the question of legitimacy of this government is concerned, all the opposition parties consider it as an illegitimate government. We wanted and still want to bring no-confidence against this government because we have proved that the government could be dislodged in this way by the success of Syed Yousuf Raza Gillani as Senator from the national assembly. He said that we have to reclaim the pace of citizens from those who do not want to have them their space. He said that the way the prime minister and his ministers drag a certain institution in politics makes that institution controversial.

Unprecedented move at National Assembly

In an unprecedented move, National Assembly Speaker Asad Qaiser on Monday ordered locking of the press gallery during President Dr Arif Alvi’s address to a joint session of parliament, forcing journalists to stage a protest sit-in outside his office.

The action of the speaker came in the wake of the call given by the Parliamentary Reporters Association (PRA) to stage a walkout from the press gallery during the president’s address and join their colleagues who had been protesting outside the Parliament House since Sunday on the call of the Pakistan Federal Union of Journalists (PFUJ) against the government’s plan to set up the controversial Pakistan Media Development Authority (PMDA).

NA speaker Asad Qaiser

The reporters who had been issued special invitation cards from the Presidency for the occasion were surprised to see both the Press Lounge and Press Gallery, situated on the third floor of the Parliament House, locked when they reached there for the coverage.

The agitating reporters first staged a sit-in at the main entrance of the Parliament House and then shifted it in front of the Speaker’s Office. The journalists, including some of the most senior reporters, remained there throughout the president’s speech and kept on chanting slogans against the speaker’s act, terming it “unconstitutional and illegal”.