By Gary Eleazar
During this past week there was a heated debate in the National Assembly, which at times centered on opposition views being readily available to the populace via the National Communications Network (NCN), particularly those expressed in the House.
A motion was defeated by the Government as it relates to the residents of Linden accessing alternatives to NCN, and there was the underlying tone that Lindeners were prohibited from hearing opposition views given that NCN did not air them.
As such, People’s National Congress Reform Executive Member, Aubrey Norton has tabled a motion in the National Assembly seeking to have debates in the house aired on NCN live, unedited, or to have a parliamentary channel.
Some sixty countries throughout the world now allow television cameras and radio microphones to record the proceedings of their legislatures, including the great majority of Commonwealth states.
In several of them, such as Australia, Britain, Canada, New Zealand and Samoa, the national broadcaster is required by law to carry daily or weekly reports on their country’s Parliamentary proceedings.
The pioneers of Parliamentary broadcasting are Australia and New Zealand, with New Zealand beginning radio broadcasts of the proceedings of its House of Representatives in 1936.
A decade later, Australia followed suit. The national broadcaster, the ABC, had a correspondent giving nightly reports on radio from Parliament in Canberra as early as 1942, but the actual broadcasting on radio of Parliamentary proceedings began on 10 July, 1946 as the result of an enquiry by the Parliamentary Standing Committee on Broadcasting, which drew heavily on the experiences of its New Zealand neighbour.
In Guyana, cameras and voice recorders are permitted in the covering and recording of proceedings but most of the coverage comes in the form of news items on the various news outlets, namely the four daily newspapers and radio and television.
The only two proceedings in the House that are carried live are the Annual Budget presentations by the Finance Minister and the President’s address at the opening of each parliamentary session every five years.
According to Norton’s motion, Guyanese are entitled to hear and/or see the presentation and representations made on their behalf in the National Assembly so that they could assess for themselves the proceedings of the House.
Budget debates are also shown on television but the opposition has repeatedly complained that their presentations are not carried or is edited or altogether cut when pertinent points are discussed.
It was indicated in the motion that NCN was the television station with the widest coverage coupled with the fact that opposition members deserve to have their views heard; further the State must bear the cost of televising the proceedings.
During the last debate in the House, Norton had pointed out that NCN was already in receipt of hundreds of millions of dollars of tax payers’ money as a subvention, plus advertisements and programmes aired are done so at a cost, meaning that the State could afford to have the parliamentary sessions aired.
In the region, both Bermuda and Bahamas give extensive time to live coverage of their legislatures wherein the Broadcasting Corporation of the Bahamas when Parliament is sitting transmits an entire day’s proceedings – usually about seven hours – live on the main channel.
Bermuda’s Defontes Broadcasting Corporation reports that it devotes 15 to 20 hours per week to live broadcasts, with two hours a day dedicated to packaged extracts.
The broadcasts are also aired on AM radio and on terrestrial TV.
Dominica concentrates mainly on radio coverage where the government radio station, Dominica Broadcasting Service, covers the House of Assembly live on AM while regular programmes continue on the FM frequencies.
The position is similar in St. Vincent and the Grenadines where the National Broadcasting Corporation broadcasts live on radio the entire day’s proceedings of parliamentary sessions.
The practice is the same for many other Caribbean countries.
The Director of BBC News, Richard Sambrook, wrote recently in a magazine for Parliamentarians: “It is not the BBC’s job to make people vote…It’s our job to inform and help them play their part in democracy.”
In addition to valuable fact sheets outlining the work of Parliament, which are available online now via the BBC website, the BBC is proposing to use the latest digital technology to begin an interactive TV service.
The aim is to open up Westminster by allowing viewers to choose between live feeds from the Commons, Lords or select committees.
The British Parliament has also set up an experimental website that is expected to enable people to watch and listen to Parliamentary debates, live, via their personal computers at a time convenient them.
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