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).
“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.
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.
PRA refutes Qaiser’s statement
“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.
Accusing the speaker of making a misstatement, the PRA called for an inquiry to know as to who had met the speaker as its representatives. It said that the PRA had decided to devise the future strategy after consultations before start of the next session of the National Assembly.
The speaker admitted that he committed a mistake by closing the press lounge as well along with the press gallery, saying that it happened because of a misunderstanding.
Mr Qaiser said the PRA was a representative body of the parliament and its members should also respect the traditions of the house.
The action of the speaker to close the gallery had come in the wake of the call given by the 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 against the government’s plan to set up the controversial Pakistan Media Development Authority (PMDA).
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 to 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’