FREEDOM OF EXPRESSION SRI LANKA

For press freedom by Sunanda Deshapriya

Live broadcast of parliamentary proceedings – a positive step towards transparency

Sri Lanka parliament

There has been much talk about relaying parliamentary proceedings live over radio and TV in the past too but for some reason or other, the proposed arrangements failed to materialize. It is hoped that the authorities will now circumvent whatever problems that obstructed its fruition and carry forward the present move to reach its full implementation. The present practice of broadcasting only highlights of parliamentary proceedings is not adequate to serve the desired purpose of keeping the people fully informed of what their political leaders are saying and doing.

by Milinda Rajasekera

(May 18, Colombo, Sri Lanka Guardian) There is little doubt that most people in this country will welcome the move to broadcast parliamentary proceedings live as disclosed by Deputy Speaker of Parliament Chandima Weerakkody. The Deputy Speaker has conveyed this information to the BBC while he was on a visit to the UK for studying the Westminster system. He has said that initially it would be limited to radio broadcasts on a trail basis and that television coverage would be considered later.

There has been much talk about relaying parliamentary proceedings live over radio and TV in the past too but for some reason or other, the proposed arrangements failed to materialize. It is hoped that the authorities will now circumvent whatever problems that obstructed its fruition and carry forward the present move to reach its full implementation. The present practice of broadcasting only highlights of parliamentary proceedings is not adequate to serve the desired purpose of keeping the people fully informed of what their political leaders are saying and doing. The present system also provides opportunities for biased and unscrupulous media institutions to reproduce excerpts to serve their selfish purposes. It was clearly observed, particularly during elections, how various media institutions carried certain comments of politicians out of context bringing disrepute to them.

The present move to give full coverage of proceedings will go a long way in accomplishing the task of enlightening the public on various national problems and issues. It is said that public enlightenment is the forerunner of justice and the foundation of democracy and that the duty of the media is to provide thorough and accurate information on public events, interests, issues and problems. The present move will provide many advantages to both the general public and to the politicians. The people will get an opportunity of knowing and seeing how well the members they have chosen as representatives discharge their duties. They will see whether their leaders would conduct themselves in the proper manner befitting the dignity of the august assembly and whether they would correctly present their problems and aspirations before the parliament. The room for political leaders to indulge in deception and duplicity will also be eliminated.

The politicians, on the other hand, will be able to show their constituents and supporters how successfully they live up to their expectations and present their interests and problems in the House. They will also be able to show their supporters the positions they take up on various controversial national issues that crop up from time to time. They will be compelled to be consistent in their policies and views without succumbing to enticements offered for personal gain. The practice of some politicians to mind their own business, feathering their own nests, after being elected will be discouraged.

This move will also be a significant step forward in promoting the concept of transparency in public affairs. The politicians whose conduct is questioned will be compelled to submit their explanations direct for the whole country to hear, as it were from the horse’s mouth. The room for the general complaint of politicians that their statements are distorted or inaccurate will thus be eliminated. The tendency for unscrupulous media personnel to willfully distort statements of political leaders for the advantage of their favoured political parties and politicians, will also be eliminated.

The parliamentarians will be encouraged to make maximum use of the question time in parliament which is considered very important in the parliamentary system. The ministers to whom questions are posed, on the other hand, will be compelled to pay greater attention to these questions and to give authentic and accurate answers to them. It is often observed that the questions posed by opposition members are not treated with the seriousness they deserve. There is apparent dodging by some ministers when questions on controversial issues are asked. Sometimes the answers given are inaccurate and often the time asked for answering questions on urgent matters is unduly long. Some ministers are in the habit of trivializing or evading questions by ridiculing opposition members who pose them.

Above all, the full broadcast of parliamentary proceedings would place greater restraint on what politicians say and how they conduct themselves in the House. While their bad conduct will be detrimental to their political life, their good behavior will set a good example to politicians functioning as members in other institutions such as provincial councils and pradeshiya sabhas too. The younger generation will also be inspired by the exemplary conduct of their political leaders.

Apparently, Deputy Speaker Weerakkody hopes to extend parliamentary proceedings coverage to television too after watching the progress made By radio broadcasts. The public, no doubt, will look forward to the materialization of this expectation because it is only then the process will reach its full form providing the people with a complete picture of their representatives’ role in the country’s supreme legislature.
LG

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