16 February 2013

Tanzania: Bunge Live Broadcast Ban Move - Need to Think Twice Before Going Public

THE move by the clerk of the National Assembly, Dr David Kashililah, this week has attracted attention from citizens of all walks of life. It follows his announcement that the House is considering abolishing broadcasting live proceedings of the National Assembly for what he termed as "unethical conduct and abuse of the freedom of expression by a section of legislators in the august House."

In his address to a press conference in Dar es Salaam on Wednesday, Dr Kashililah said the House is considering the move to avoid giving bad experiences to younger generations. According to him, the abolition of live broadcasts is aimed to bar some legislators from seeking cheap publicity from viewers and the electorate.

Instead the House is considering establishing a special channel to air the programme after being edited. The intention, according to him, emanates from the chaos behaviour by the legislators in the august House in Dodoma. "The Parliament has now become a political battlefield, House ethics are no longer observed, everybody stands without following House rules and speaks whatever one feels like talking provided the viewers see how one can display the drama in the House," he said.

The announcement by the clerk of the National Assem- bly seems to clearly be con- trary to what the Speaker of the National Assembly, Ms Anne Makinda, had said sev- eral times earlier. She was once quoted as telling the legislators that they should be cautious that their conduct in the House was being broadcast live and the citizens, including their electorate in their respective areas were watching and assessing their conduct in the House.

On the other hand, Speaker Makinda praised the national television, Tanzania Broad- casting Corporation (TBC), for the job well done in broad- casting live proceedings of the National Assembly. She went further as proposing to the government to increase the public service broadcasting budget to enable it effectively execute its services. In a turn of events, two days later that could be interpreted as new twist after back- lash from the general public, Dr Kashilillah disowned the information saying he was being misquoted by the media. According to a statement signed by Dr Kashilillah and circulated into media houses in Dar es Salaam yesterday, the Parliament does not intend to ban the live broadcast on House proceedings but, rather, "to improve the availability of the services in a manner that could be supervised by both parties -- the Parliament and the wananchi." "... under the current situ- ation, all TV stations broadcast live proceedings of the Parlia ment sessions where TV cam- eras and journalists are allowed in House chambers, the state- ment signed by Dr Kashilillah says in part.

He explains in the state- ment that under the new pro- cedure, cameras will not be allowed inside the House chambers. Instead they will get clear feed from Parliament communication systems and relay the proceedings without being edited. According to the statement, cameras will contin- ue to be allowed inside House Chambers until the process to install communication systems in the House are completed.

The statement further clari- fies that the parliament will issue "Codes of conduct for media broadcasting" on how to copy and broadcast Bunge proceedings. This will help to put in place acceptable com- munication procedures that will enable citizens opportu- nity to follow the performance of their elected leaders without any partisan interest.

"While the new procedure is in progress, citizens will be informed in every stage," he says, allaying fears from the public based on information that the Parliament intended to ban live broadcasts of the House proceedings in Dodo- ma. He says the news were given undeserving prominence which is contrary to the objec- tive of the pending improve- ment exercise. Among those who chal- lenged Dr Kashililah's state- ment are Tanzania Editors Forum (TEF) by saying the National Assembly should reconsider the plan to ban live coverage of parliamentary pro- ceedings.

They said in a press conference in Dar es Salaam that the intention is bent to negatively affect the growth of democracy and rights of access to information in the country. TEF Chairperson, Absalom Kibanda, said in Dar es Salaam yesterday that the intention of the National Assembly will hinder citizens' ability to assess the performance of their repre- sentatives in the parliament.

Ms Lui Kafulama, a resi- dent of Dar es Salaam city, expresses her disapproval of the intended parliamentary live broadcast ban as local media quoted the clerk of the National Assembly as saying. She says she is in total opposition to the statement saying that the plan is meant to curtail the citizens' right to information.

"As a citizen of this coun- try who actively participate in the electoral process of this country I have the right to know how my representative I voted to represent me in the august House in Dodoma are faring. Seeing the representa- tive on live broadcast will give me a clear picture of what kind of a person I voted for in Par- liament," she remarked. According to her, the move to remove live broadcast on parliament proceedings is a move bent to conceal miscon- ducts committed by sections of our parliamentarians in Dodoma.

"It will not help anything now because the citizens have already known them and made enough assessment of their performance. We have already known who is a representa- tive and who is not. And this is an important weapon we will use come 2015 to decide who deserves to be returned to Parliament. "Removing the live broad- cast of our representatives is total concealing of the rot com- mitted by our representatives in the parliament.

It is meant to deny the citizens the right to know whether the person they chose to the parliament really carries the agenda of those who voted them into political lead- ership," Ms Lui, a mother of three, says, adding truth and transparency will be muzzled if the intention is implemented. Having assessed the entire drama, it is a fact that Dr Kashilillah may have been misunderstood but the ques- tion we ask ourselves is, why all the media had almost the same information on what he told the press conference on Wednesday.

Another point of concern is the time fact used to clarify the story. Records indicate the clarification was given two days after the announcement. Surely it came after public reaction which, in my views, is not what he expected. It is important, therefore, for those occupying offices of authority to evaluate the reper- cussions of their announce- ments before they go public, otherwise they will create unnecessary public tension.

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