I got a hint on the subject of this write-up from a source considered reliable on parliamentary current affairs, and that is none other than honorable Job Ndugai, Deputy Speaker of the current National Assembly. Speaking to parliamentary reporters in Dodoma, a few days ago, Ndugai is quoted to have said that there are some legislators who, for one reason or another, suggest that parliamentary proceedings should get partial coverage by the electronic media.
According to the deputy Speaker, those behind this idea opine that only part of the proceedings, like the question-and-answer sessions, as well as voting to pass ministerial budgets, ought to be covered live by the electronic media, leaving the house to conduct debate sessions in camera! Let us make it clear from outset that Job Ndugai categorically stated he does not belong to, or even support this camp.
We cannot take Job Ndugai’s revelation for granted, on the grounds that his position in the National Assembly hierarchy gives him an opportunity to interact with legislators, formally and informally. Some MPs can even approach him to get his views or advice on some issues before tabling hem to parliament.
Before going deep into this issue, we may as well recall that while delivering his ministry budget speech, a few weeks back, the Minister for Justice and Constitutional Affairs revealed that a bill on the citizen’s right to information is expected to be tabled in parliament during this financial year. In the light of this background, one would not expect to hear the story of some MPs plotting a contradictory move of introducing measures likely to limit the exposure of citizens to what their representatives do, or fail to do when they attend parliamentary sessions and get a sitting allowance for doing so - apart from a high salary and other fringe benefits.
Yet democracy demands that even society members who are not ready to swim with the current have a right to be heard. So, what reasons are the few MPs advocating for limited media coverage of parliamentary proceedings advancing to justify their questionable stand? Well, we are told their concern is not about the claim that flash light of TV cameras is a distraction during house debates. They are not talking about the high cost involved in covering proceedings for long hours, as cost-consciousness is not part of our culture, anyway.
Believe it or not, but the main reason they base on to support the controversial proposal is the least expected. According to Ndugai, these
MPs claim that occasional dramatic scenes we are witnessing in parliament during debating time, characterized by verbal and physical theatrics, are spurred by the performers’ thirst for publicity, which is easily quenched by live broadcasting of the drama. In other words, those advocating for low key coverage of parliamentary debate feel that the habit of playing to the public gallery will soon be history, once such a move is taken!
Indeed, there might be a grain of truth in the above mentioned claim, but does this questionable reason warrant keeping citizens in the dark about goings on in parliament? The answer is a plain “no”, for a good reason that the advantages of live coverage of Bunge sessions far outweigh the disadvantages.
Since only a few MPs are probably misusing the live coverage opportunity, the right of citizens to monitor the performance of their representatives must be protected at any cost. Live coverage enables us to assess the quality of debate, and actually to also know who among our representatives are MP material and who are simply nominal ambassadors.
When quorum related problems arise, members of the public witness them live, thanks to TV coverage which exposes those empty seats. It is today easy for voters in a given constituency to find out whether their representative often attend sessions, or is among those on the list of notorious absentees.
You might as well note that a few MPs with a hobby of taking a nap during afternoon debating sessions are occasionally exposed by media technology.
Some observers speculate that verbal attack of government in parliament by the opposition MPs do irritate their over-sensitive counterparts of the ruling party, who feel that presenting house debate to the public gives the former political mileage. All said, it seems there is more than meets the eye and the ear behind the suggested retrogressive move.
Henry Muhanika is a Media Consultant