Broadcasting parliament is vital

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The 10th Parliament has adopted a motion calling for a broadcast of Parliament proceedings.

In the 11th Parliament, a question was posed to the minister of Presidential Affairs and Public Administration on when government will start broadcasting Parliament. The answer by the minister was that the government is working on it and that it is still at elementary stages including assessment of how much it will cost.

Parliament, as a representative body of the republic, performs the basic dogmas of democracy; it articulates voter’s preferences, translates these preferences into policies through enacting legislation, and scrutinises the work of the executive arm of government. Parliament accord the public, through questions, themes, motions and debates in the floor of parliament and parliamentary committees, the opportunity to participate in the governance of a country. Through parliamentary representation the public holds government accountable on issues of public interest, exert effective oversight on every aspect of public life.

Why Parliament should be broadcast on BTV, RB 1/2 or private TVs and radio stations? Why did Parliament agree to broadcast? Botswana Parliament is located in the capital city Gaborone and therefore detached from the people. The fact that parliamentary debates are not broadcast live or even recorded broadcast makes the assembly even more detached from the people.

Only the State of the Nation Address by the President, presentation of budget proposal by the Minister of Finance and Development Planning and other very special assembly sessions are broadcast live on state television and radio. For other deliberations in the house, many Batswana rely on the media, both public and private, to report on what transpired in parliament. Currently some parliamentary committees are siting, for instance Public Accounts Committee and Batswana rely on the media to inform them of what is going on. 

It is without doubt that editorial discretion is exercised on what is given to the public as news. Journalists who attend proceedings and their editors are interested in what they like or what they think the public wants to hear or read and or what sells and the public may miss some vital information that is filtered out.

While people can also visit and sit in the parliamentary public gallery and follow the proceedings, there is a need to close the gap between the people and parliament through TV, radio and even internet broadcasting. It is important to build a direct linkage between citizens and their elected representatives in the national assembly.

The public must be kept informed and the legislature must reach out to them. In a democracy, rulers must be chosen by the ruled. Moreover, rulers must act in the interest of the ruled and be accountable to the ruled or to the representatives of the ruled. It is only when there is transparency that there can be accountability. Therefore, transparency and accountability are two tenets of democracy that public broadcast of parliamentary proceedings can promote.

Televising parliament and other live broadcast would serve as a political education and or information tool; Batswana would be sensitised on various political issues and consequently voter apathy can be averted. It may also enhance the productivity of MPs. Some MPs are indolent, incompetent, roguish and truant.

Other MPs misrepresent their constituents and pursue narrow political interest in place of the larger public interest. There is a sizable number of MPs who habitually snooze whilst parliamentary business is taking place. The general public has the right to know what is going on in the house and at committees.  Some MPs feel that broadcasting parliament would trivialise the proceeding, misrepresent MPs and distort the character of the house especially if there is selective editing by the broadcaster. However, this can be avoided if there is live broadcast of the house proceedings.

TV and radio (and lately the internet) are vital ingredients in a modern parliamentary democracy capable of closing the communication divide between elected representatives and voters by educating and informing the latter. MPs must embrace this idea to enhance Botswana’s democracy. If Botswana wants to modernise its democracy, it must work towards more transparency by opening up parliament to the public.

The public must be given free and full access to debates and other activities such as parliamentary committee’s proceedings. Broadcasting parliament will show Batswana that their right to see for themselves what is happening in the house is being respected. Moreover, BTV and RB1 and 2 have a lot of airtime that goes to waste; very old movies and other useless exotic programs are aired by the state broadcast.

Parliament should therefore be taken to the people through live broadcast and recorded broadcast in some instances. If there is a need to have a channel solely dedicated to Parliament then that investment should be made as it is good for democracy.

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