VILNIUS - Journalists will face fresh restrictions after the new Seimas (Lithuanian parliament) decided that reporters could no longer film, record sound or take pictures of MPs in the canteen, smoking rooms and rest rooms of the parliament building.
Journalists who are found guilty of violating the regulations could lose their accreditation, which is required for entry to press events.
The regulations have come under fire from industry specialists.
"These regulations are anti-constitutional, as the Constitution's Article 25 states that freedom to express convictions, to receive and impart information may not be limited otherwise than by law," said Dainius Radzevicius, chairman of the Lithuania Journalists Union.
In defense of the measures, the new parliamentary speaker and the initiator of the regulations, Arunas Valinskas, said he is trying to improve the working conditions of Seimas. Radzevicius said that the best conditions possible must first be ensured for journalists. Freedoms they have must be protected, not restricted, he said.
"We are ready to defend our rights in court if politicians wouldn't change their mind. Also, Seimas is a public place, meaning journalists can film anywhere in there if it is necessary," Radzevicius said.
Valinskas backs up new regulations as the way to protect MPs' dignity, while they are, for example, eating.
"I do not think that you would feel very comfortable if being filmed while holding your fork and chewing your cutlet," Valinskas told journalists.
Radzevicius said that this way MPs may be able to avoid journalists, especially when doing something inappropriate, like drinking alcohol during working hours. Media have previously reported on some MPs being under the influence of alcohol while still at work.
MPs, however, have never complained about being treated inappropriately by the media.
"We did not receive any complaints about MPs treated offensive or unethically by the journalists working in the Seimas," Egidija Leveikaite of the Journalists and Publishers Ethic Commission told The Baltic Times.
Indre Pleskovaite, Valinskas' spokesperson, says that such regulations are common in other European parliaments and are necessary, as MPs have complained about journalists' behavior.
"There was a case when a member of Seimas was filmed while zipping his trousers," said Pleskovaite.
Coalition members, including the Liberal Party, supported Valinskas' idea, which Radzevicius said is a surprise because they are supposed to oppose such propositions as part of their liberal values.
He also added that Valinskas should not act as a producer anymore, because Seimas is not a TV studio, therefore it is not his concern what angle MPs are filmed.
"It looks like politicians consider journalists as part of the Seimas personnel, which they are not. They are there to enlighten the job of Parliament and inform society, as politicians themselves cannot physically communicate with every citizen directly," Radzevicius said.
The new regulations are seemingly at odds with Valinskas' election campaigns, when he declared that the "doors of the Seimas should be open for people."
Article 25 of the Lithuanian Constitution says, "a human being shall have the right to have his own convictions and freely express them. They must not be hindered from seeking, receiving and imparting information and ideas."
Valinskas became the parliamentary speaker after his first election to the Seimas following a long career in television entertainment.