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Don`t shut out public from House debates

15th February 2013
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Editorial Cartoon

Among the most retrogressive steps that the country could make is to stop live television and radio broadcasts of the proceedings in Parliament.

The step is apparently being contemplated just because of the disappointing conduct of the business in the august House, pitting some MPs against the chair during the just ended session in Dodoma.

The Clerk of the National Assembly, Dr Thomas Kashililah said as much, when addressing a press conference in Dar es Salaam on Wednesday.

He announced that his office was discussing with the Tanzania Communications Regulatory Authority (TCRA) the possibility of stopping live coverage of the proceedings or creating a television channel that will only broadcast edited version of the proceedings.

Whatever the word used, what Dr Kashililah said pointed to moves to deny information to the public about what concerns them most; that is the goings on of the people they pay to make decisions on their behalf in the august house.

But let it be said at the very outset that the course of action being contemplated is to put it mildly unacceptable and indeed does not offer a solution to the failings witnessed in the House.

It is important that those engaged in this exercise be clear about its implications. For it seems that the aim is to turn what is a public forum into a private debating chamber, at the expense of those who pay for it.

Before such a cherished constitutional right of the public is taken away from them, apparently to assuage the egos of those they have elected to represent them in the House, it is pertinent to ask: Who is being targeted by this measure? Is it the errant MPs? Can the officials working on the control measures convince us that shutting out the public will solve the problem? Why not use the House Rules to punish those involved in the breakdown of the proceedings?

Sadly if the esteemed members of parliament can proceed in the manner they did, with tv cameras on, what guarantees that they will not behave worse, when not in the public eye? Doesn’t shameful behaviour always feel more emboldened in darkness and away from the watchful public eye? 

We think that contrary to the view of those seeking to shut out the public, the tv cameras have, if anything created a sense of discipline and seriousness during the sessions, even if others regard it as prying into their indiscretions.

Lamentably missing is the possibility of recalling members seen by their constituents as failing to properly articulate their concerns in the august house. Hopefully the public shall have this right granted under the new constitution.

We should also make it clear that we do not see anything wrong with creating a channel dedicated to the House proceedings. Our only concern is the intention to censor its contents, to suit certain interests, denying the public its right to access to all the information it has paid for in full.

Let all those involved in the exercise be guided by reason, not emotions or undue external pressure.

SOURCE: THE GUARDIAN