UNESCO Disclaimer: The Opinions expressed in this work are those of the authors of this study and are not necessarily those of UNESCO. The designations employed and the presentations of the material in this work do not imply the expression of any opinion whatsoever on n the part of UNESCO Secretariat concerning the legal status of any country or territory, or of its authorities, or concerning the delimitations of the frontiers of any country or territory.
BROADCASTING PARLIAMENT SPREADS THROUGHOUT THE COMMONWEALTH Mary Raine, formerly Editor, Radio News Features, BBC World Service.
Research by Robyn Bresnahan, formerly Media Executive, Commonwealth Broadcasting Association, and now with the Canadian Broadcasting Corporation, and Shem Baldeosingh, Assistant Director, Information and Reference Services, Commonwealth Parliamentary Association Secretariat.
INTRODUCTION The Commonwealth Broadcasting Association, the Commonwealth Parliamentary Association and UNESCO teamed up to research the state of Parliamentary broadcasting around the Commonwealth. The aim of the survey was to gather information covering both radio and television in order to find out how countries in the Commonwealth report the work of their Parliaments, for how long and whether live or in recorded form. Is it being shown on a dedicated cable channel or on a main terrestrial channel or just radio?. What impact is it having? Is it reaching mass audiences? The CBA sent out a questionnaire to broadcasting organizations and the Commonwealth Parliamentary Association sent out a similar one to Parliaments.
National broadcasters throughout the Commonwealth were contacted primarily by e-mail, but also by phone or fax where necessary. They were asked a series of questions:
1. Does your organization broadcast live or packaged coverage? If you do not, is there any other broadcaster in your country doing live or packaged Parliamentary coverage?
2. How many hours per day or week are dedicated to LIVE Parliamentary broadcasting?
3. How many hours per day or week are dedicated to packaged extracts from Parliament?
4. Please describe the format in which Parliamentary proceedings are broadcast.
5. Do you have a dedicated cable channel for the broadcast of Parliament, or is the coverage being shown on a main terrestrial channel?
6. What impact is Parliamentary broadcast having?
7. Is it reaching a mass audience?
8. Are regional Parliaments shown in the regions?
9. Are there written guidelines or any special legislation for Parliamentary coverage?
Over eighty broadcasting organizations around the Commonwealth were contacted for this survey and 64 of them responded, amounting to a response rate of 78 per cent. All the larger countries replied. Countries we did not hear from included Zimbabwe. Additional information came from the Commonwealth Parliamentary Association and from various sites on the Internet.
A BRIEF BACKGROUND HISTORY Some sixty countries throughout the world now allow television cameras and radio microphones to record the proceedings of their legislatures - including the great majority of Commonwealth states. In several of them, such as Australia, Britain, Canada, New Zealand and Samoa, the national broadcaster is required by law to carry daily or weekly reports on their country’s Parliamentary proceedings.
As far as the Commonwealth is concerned, the real pioneers of Parliamentary broadcasting are Australia and New Zealand, with New Zealand beginning radio broadcasts of the proceedings of its House of Representatives in 1936. A decade later, Australia followed suit. The national broadcaster, the ABC, had a correspondent giving nightly reports on radio from Parliament in Canberra as early as 1942 but the actual broadcasting on radio of Parliamentary proceedings began on 10 July 1946 as the result of an enquiry by the Parliamentary Standing Committee on Broadcasting which drew heavily on the experiences of its New Zealand neighbour.
THE SITUATION NOW: THE MAXIMUM OPTION - SOME EXAMPLES In Australia, under the Parliamentary Proceedings Broadcasting Act of 1946, and subsequent amendments, the Australian Broadcasting Corporation has a statutory obligation to broadcast the proceedings of the Senate and House of Representatives and joint sittings of both houses on radio and television. Towards the end of 1988 a radio network was established to carry the broadcasts of Parliament and related material only. The original act was very specific. It laid down that these broadcasts “should be carried on an AM frequency by a national broadcasting station in the capital city of each state.” It has since evolved to be part of a live 24 hours national news network, ABC NewsRadio, which carries live coverage from both Houses on days when Parliament is sitting. This totals an average of about 42 hours a week. Parliament provides the equipment and the technical feeds for the broadcaster. Exactly how the Parliamentary radio broadcasts work, which debates are to be covered and from which House, are regulated by a committee - the Joint Committee on the Broadcasting of Parliamentary Proceedings - drawn from both Houses. This committee was established by the original 1946 act and has nine members, including the Speaker of the House of Representatives and the President of the Senate. The other seven members consist of 5 members appointed by the House and two from the Senate and reflect party strengths in Parliament. In coming to their decision on coverage, the law states that “the Committee shall take into account the importance of the impending debate and public interest attaching thereto in deciding the allocation” An official of the Australian Parliament explained how the system works: “Radio broadcasts cover the full day of proceedings, not just Question Time. The Committee has determined the allocation based on the business that is conducted in each of the Houses on particular days. For example, a sitting Monday in the House of Representatives is devoted to Private Members’ Business and the Committee has decided that this is to be one of the broadcast days of the House of Representatives.” It is intended that the division of coverage between the two houses will even out over a session.
Televising of Senate proceedings began in 1990 and the House of Representatives the following year. When Parliament is in session, proceedings are broadcast on ABC TV in the afternoon, late evening and early morning. Unlike with radio, it is the ABC, not Parliament, which determines the allocation of the television broadcast of Question Time. It alternates its coverage between the two Houses, with the House that is not covered live having its Question Time broadcast in the evening. ABC told the survey: “For television, there are four hours of live coverage each sitting week (4 live Question Times); dedicated or packaged extracts from Parliament occurs for five hours each sitting week. There are four Delayed Question Times and one hour of highlights. For radio, live Parliamentary coverage averages 42 hours per sitting week; dedicated or packaged extracts from Parliament amount to four hours each sitting week, i.e. four Delayed Question Times.” Clips from speakers in Parliament are also used in news programmes.
Australia’s Parliament - which sits for approximately 20 weeks per year - is accessible on Internet from the ABC’s website “The Public Record”. (). Links to Parliamentary broadcasts from Parliament are also available from ABC NewsRadio’s website. (http://abc.net.au/newsradio/).
Canada claims to be the first Commonwealth country to televise LIVE Parliamentary debates, beginning with the Speech from the Throne by Queen Elizabeth during visit to Ottawa in 1977. Two years later, the national broadcaster, the Canadian Broadcasting Corporation, was given the exclusive license to cover Parliament by the regulatory body, the Radio-Television and Telecommunications Commission (CRTC). Originally CBC had a dedicated channel for the broadcast of Parliament, but ceased running it in 1991 because of cutbacks in its budget. A newly-formed consortium of the country’s major cable companies stepped in - with the support of Parliament - to ensure continued coverage of Parliament so that, as it said in its application for the license, “millions of Canadian cable households would continue to receive House of Commons broadcasts at no cost to taxpayers or subscribers”. The consortium contributes more than five million dollars a year to fund the channel. Day to day operations and editorial decisions are the responsibility of CPAC staff.
The cable broadcasters in Canada estimate that Parliamentary proceedings amount to about 24 percent of their schedule. Viewers can follow in English or French or what is called “floor sound” - the language of the member speaking. It is estimated that over one million Canadians view the House of Commons broadcasts. The cable consortium says “Canada’s cable industry believes that unbiased and widespread access to the institutions, processes, individuals and events that shape Canadian public policy is a vital public service.” Today CPAC broadcasts the Chamber proceedings live and the televised committee proceedings on a delayed basis to its cable and satellite affiliates located across the country and it estimates that over a million Canadians tune in to the House of Commons broadcasts.
The national broadcaster, CBC, does not broadcast Parliament live except on special occasions such as the Speech from the Throne or the delivery of a new Budget. “Our coverage of Parliament is indirect through newscasts and current affairs on our main radio and TV networks. It is quite common on a weekday for clips from “Question Period” to be featured on newscasts on pertinent issues. CBC Radio has a regular one hour Saturday morning programme, “The House”, which provides an overview of Parliamentary issues.”
In Britain, by contrast, it was a major and lengthy struggle to get the cameras and microphones into Parliament. The BBC first suggested broadcasting Parliament’s proceedings as long ago as the 1920s but the idea was rejected. Twenty years later, at the height of the Second World War, the government argued that proceedings in Parliament were too technical to be understood by the ordinary listener who would be liable to get quite a false impression of the business transacted. It was felt it would be better to let the professional political correspondents explain the mysteries to the public. In fact the arguments went on for years. The BBC carried out several broadcasting experiments and permanent radio coverage was eventually allowed in 1978. But television was another matter. Supporters of televising proceedings argued that it would lead to greater public understanding of the work of Parliament; it would involve the public more in politics and it would also help to make the politicians more accountable. As a former Conservative leader of the House of Commons told his colleagues: “to televise Parliament would, at a stroke, restore any loss it has suffered to the new mass media as the political education of the nation.”
Against this, it was claimed that television would trivialize and distort the work of Parliament, MPs would be tempted, by the presence of cameras, to play to the gallery to get themselves on television. And the equipment - the cameras, the bright lights, wires trailing everywhere, and technicians operating the equipment - would all be too intrusive. It was the Upper House, the Lords, who were first to agree to let themselves be televised - in 1985 - and then only on an experimental basis. It took almost another five years for the House of Commons to admit the cameras.
In Britain, too, the national broadcaster the BBC is required to “broadcast an impartial account, day by day, prepared by professional reporters of the proceedings of Parliament”. It has always done this by a programme “Today in Parliament” on the its main speech-based channel, Radio 4, which is heard nationwide. It goes out in the late evening and is repeated, with updates as necessary to include material from late night or overnight sittings. This used to be a simple script version lasting about 15 minutes summarizing proceedings, quoting Ministers, MPs and Peers as appropriate. Now it has been updated in format and extended, including voice extracts from both the House of Commons and the Lords. BBC Radio broadcasts the Prime Ministers Questions on a Wednesday at midday (a relatively recent innovation) and transmits Question Time live on Tuesdays and Thursdays as well. Important events such as the State Opening of Parliament with speeches by the Prime Minister and the Leader of the Opposition are traditionally broadcast live, together with the Chancellor of the Exchequer’s presentation of the budget and the remarks by the Opposition Finance spokesman, or a crucial debate on a matter of importance - for example possible military action against Iraq early in 2003, which made the main headlines in all the media, radio, television as well as the newspapers. Radio 5, a highly popular nationwide current affairs and sport news network, for example, dipped in and out of the debate. Extracts were used in the main current affairs programmes.
Television, too, provides occasional live coverage of debates, usually from the House of Commons. Britain now has three twenty four hours news channels (BBC News 24, Independent Television News and Sky Television News) on satellite, cable and digital terrestrial. They dip in and out of Parliament as editors feel is merited by the news agenda of the day. They use clips from their video-recordings in news bulletins and news programmes. The BBC’s rolling news channel News24, carries a late evening 30 minute programme “The Day in Parliament” summarizing the day’s proceedings.
For those in Britain who want more there is a special dedicated Parliamentary channel, BBC Parliament. First launched in 1992, by a group of cable companies as a non profit venture, and taken over by the BBC six years later, it provides continuous unedited coverage of proceedings but is available only on satellite, cable or digital terrestrial television. The debates are shown live, and uninterrupted without commentary. To help viewers understand and follow proceedings, there are captions at the bottom of the screen, naming the subject under debate, the MP speaking and which party he or she belongs to. So it is clear to the viewer who is talking and what they are talking about. For example, early in March 2003, there was a debate to mark international Women’s’ Day. The caption named the speaker which was leading member - appropriately a woman - of the Opposition Conservative Party, and had as explanation: “Only one of the 100 leading companies quoted on the Financial Times Stock Exchange index is run by a woman.” This channel also broadcasts the whole sequence of meetings of key committees and gives them a regular place in the schedule at weekends. There is a daily review half hour long of the work of Parliament that particular day shown last thing in the evening and repeated early the next day, and a weekly overview - also repeated. BBC Parliament is also a platform for the regional assemblies - the Scottish Parliament and the Assembly of Wales which are shown for a combined total of eight hours at weekends when the Parliaments do not meet. During the Parliamentary recess, programmes are shown on BBC Parliament aimed at helping viewers better understand the work of the two Houses. During the Easter recess of 2003, for example, they explained in great detail, using archive material, the work of the House of Commons specialized committees. All in all. the BBC calculates that it dedicates 39 hours of live coverage on TV of House of Commons proceedings with about the same amount recorded. With select committees something like 110 hours is recorded for debates from Westminster. It is all part of the broadcaster’s remit to inform.
In New Zealand, responsibility for the broadcasting of Parliament rests with Radio New Zealand. RNZ, the national radio service, is required by statute to broadcast Parliament. It puts out some 17 hours a week of live broadcasting on RNZ’s AM frequency when Parliament is in session and just over an hour in packaged extracts. TV New Zealand’s TVONE channel, which puts out more serious programmes with news, current affairs and information aimed at “a mature audience” does not broadcast live from Parliament but it told the survey that “it streams Parliament’s Question Time on its web portal (nzoom.com). It has cameras in Parliament for this purpose and uses the footage in its news programmes every day where appropriate.
OTHER MODELS FOR THE BROADCASTING OF PARLIAMENT Live broadcasting on the British, Canadian, or Australian models is not the pattern of Parliamentary coverage in most of the Commonwealth. Most of the Commonwealth states in Africa, the Pacific and the Caribbean simply do not have the resources. The great majority of Commonwealth countries broadcast live on radio and TV the important Parliamentary occasions. There is general agreement on what these amount to: the opening of Parliament when the government’s plans for the forthcoming session are outlined, the budget and major legislation. And there are other events which may be of sufficient importance that it would appropriate to accord them live coverage. Television Jamaica speaks for many national broadcasters who replied to the survey: “we carry live broadcast of any matter deemed by the station to be of great importance to the nation or of significant interest to viewers”
Of course what is considered important by the public varies from country to country. To take some examples from debates in Parliament in different Commonwealth countries in the first half of 2003: Britain has been pre-occupied with the government’s decision to join the US in attacking Iraq and overthrowing Saddam Hussein and with its plans for the future of the state-run hospitals. Debates on these issues have received widespread coverage on both radio and TV. Australian MPs have been voicing concern about the suitability for office of the Queen’s representative, the Governor General, who finally resigned under growing public pressure at the end of May 2003. India is concerned with future relations with Pakistan and finding a solution to the Kashmir question.
In Sierra Leone,according to SLBS, the matters causing great public interest deemed to warrant live coverage included: “the passage of the Anti-Corruption measure, the Minister of Lands answering questions on the demolition of illegal buildings in Freetown.”
In India, the world’s biggest democracy, Parliament is frequently shown live on TV but not on radio. Special events such as the President’s address to members of both Houses are shown live as are other big occasions like the national budget and the budget for the railways - highly important in a country where some ten million people are said to travel by train every day and where fares are highly subsidized. Major government announcements are also shown live, such as that in early May 2003 by Prime Minister Atal Bihari Vajpayee, of the government’s decision to resume dialogue with Pakistan, which was also shown on the international satellite channels and seen throughout the world. The state-owned All India Radio has always been the only station permitted to broadcast news on radio. It records Question Hour which is then broadcast later the same day on the National Channel of All India Radio. AIR told the survey it does not provide daily live coverage but broadcasts daily summaries, one hour a day, containing voice clips from Parliament when it is in session. AIR’s regional stations arrange live coverage of the Governor’s Address to the State Assemblies and the presentation of the Budget by the state Finance Ministers. The state TV broadcaster, Doordarshan puts out one hour of live Parliamentary broadcasting a day. Parliament is also seen on the burgeoning private channels such as New Delhi Television and the satellite channel, Zee TV. NDTV told the survey that it carries the big occasions live; otherwise footage of Parliamentary proceedings is included in its news bulletins as merited by newsworthiness. The feed is taken from the Prasar Bharati Corporation which is the only Indian organization allowed to cover Parliamentary proceedings. They do a complete live broadcast of Indian Parliamentary proceedings when Parliament is in session. They also carry a packaged broadcast each evening in English and Hindi. NDTV’s news bulletins are shown on a cable and satellite channel specifically dedicated to Parliamentary coverage.
Unlike, for example, the Parliaments in the Old Commonwealth, the Indian Lok Sabha is frequently in uproar and disrupted by opposition walkouts - scenes which viewers can see. Correspondents report lots of shouting and scuffles, with noisy members being escorted out of the House by marshals. A recent (May 2003) sitting of the Lok Sabha had to be suspended because of chaotic scenes with the Speaker’s chair being mobbed as opponents of a bill to reserve one third of seats for women in Parliament and state legislatures tried to halt the measure. They mobbed the Speaker’s chair and refused to return to their seats till the sitting was suspended.
Pakistan did not have a Parliament for the three years before October 2002 when the military stepped aside and civilian government was restored. After the new government took office on November 22 following a general election, Pakistan Television reported live on the installation of the newly elected National Assembly, the election of the Prime Minister and the Speaker and Deputy Speaker. Pakistan Television Corporation told the survey that they do not carry live reports from Parliament but report its proceedings in news bulletins and news programmes on radio and TV. A decision has yet to be taken, the Pakistan Television Corporation says, regarding the coverage and telecast of the national Assembly proceedings. The state-owned radio told the survey it broadcasts resumes of Parliamentary proceedings and carries news items.
In Sri Lanka, none of the channels broadcast Parliamentary proceedings.
Singapore follows the practice in many countries of broadcasting Parliament live only on big occasions on an ad hoc basis. Otherwise, MediaCorp Radio and MediaCorp TV told the survey, “extracts, within news or current affairs programmes, are broadcast only when Parliament sits.” They are in the form of news reports with and without soundbites and live speeches, on an ad hoc basis. A very rough estimate of total output per day when Parliament is sitting is about 100 minutes across all radio services.”
Radio Television Brunei does not broadcast Parliament live, but plans to do so early in 2003 with the launch of its digital station.
THE MEDITERRANEAN COMMONWEALTH Malta’s national broadcaster, Public Services Broadcasting Limited, puts out live Parliamentary debates on the radio channel (106.6FM known as Ten Sixty Six). This amounts to 12 hours per week. On TV it is only the Budget speeches which are carried live - in all about five hours of debate. The usual practice is to show packaged extracts totalling two hours a week.
Gibraltarbroadcasts Parliament live but on radio only on the 25-30 days per year when the House of Assembly meets.
The Cyprus Broadcasting Corporation reported that it only broadcasts Parliament once or twice a year when the annual budget is being debated and approved.
THE CARIBBEAN In the Caribbean, both Bahamas and Bermuda give extensive time to live coverage of their legislatures. The Broadcasting Corporation of the Bahamas told the CBA that when Parliament is sitting, "an entire day’s proceedings - that is about 7 hours - are shown live on the main terrestrial channel. However when Parliament is not sitting there are re-runs." “And there is a packaged re-broadcast of two hours a night until all Parliamentarians are given coverage.” Parliamentary proceedings must also be carried on the country’s Cable TV network. Bermuda’s Defontes Broadcasting Corporation reports that it devotes 15-20 hours per week to live broadcasts, with two hours a day dedicated to packaged extracts. The broadcasts go out on AM radio and on terrestrial TV.
Dominica concentrates mainly on radio coverage. The government radio station, Dominica Broadcasting Service, covers the House of Assembly live on AM while regular programmes continue on the FM frequencies. On an average day, House proceedings begin at 10am, running through till 11pm. There is a two hour break in the middle of the day followed by another later, lasting 60 minutes. Both are at the direction of the Speaker. The cable broadcaster, Marpin, has permission to film on special occasions such as the President’s address and the budget.
The position is similar in St. Vincent and the Grenadines. The National Broadcasting Corporation broadcasts live on radio the entire day’s proceedings of the islands’ Parliament. The NBC told the survey: “This can range from 5-8 hours daily, generally once a month. During budget debates it can go on for five days. “ As in Dominica, the format is “to join at start, break for regular programming during their breaks, and resume when Parliament does.”
The practice for covering Parliament in Guyana is to prepare packages for showing on the country’s only TV channel. On days when Parliament is sitting, it broadcasts reports averaging two hours a day. The cameras are allowed into the house. The film is then edited for broadcast. - a situation very common in developing countries.
Jamaicans get live coverage of big set-piece occasions on both TV stations on the island: the budget debate, speeches by the Prime Minister and Leader of the Opposition, the Finance Minister and the Opposition Finance Spokesman. CVM TV says its live coverage may total 25 hours in a year. There is minimum commentary. The presenter, whether on screen or voiceover, performs an opening and a closing." Otherwise CVM TV has a Parliamentary reporter who provides inserts for its newscasts at least twice a week - perhaps ten minutes per week in airtime. This reporter has to observe rules on dress code when in the House. "Jackets must be worn. No cellular phones are allowed" Television Jamaica shows live any event it deems of great importance to the country or of significant interest to viewers. Apart from this it reports Parliament in news programmes in packaged form..
In Trinidad and Tobago, moves are under way in Parliament to have all proceedings broadcast live on radio and television - including committee proceedings. At present only major occasions are covered live.
Barbados reported that coverage of Parliament there is on a limited scale - mostly in news clips in bulletins. Antigua and Grenada told the survey they do not cover Parliament live while the radio on Montserrat said it “does not broadcast Parliamentary coverage.” Anguilla and St. Lucia both broadcast select proceedings.
AFRICA The tendency in African Commonwealth countries is to broadcast major occasions on radio and television - but TV, as a medium, is far less important for conveying information than radio. Often it has only about half the reach of radio. So radio is a far better option for governments, in for example, health campaigns like combating the spread of AIDS, for getting messages across.
Radio Mozambique, at one end of the scale, broadcasts more than four hours of live radio coverage a day when Parliament is sitting. It also does packaged extracts of Parliamentary proceedings amounting to one and a half hours weekly.
The South African Broadcasting Corporation told the survey that its Parliamentary coverage is only carried live on a national channel which reaches just over three quarters of the population.. It dedicates eight hours a week to reporting live from the floor of the national Assembly during Parliamentary sessions - but this could be reduced to make space for special broadcasts such as the Earth Summit, which was held in Johannesburg in August and September 2002. SABC’s TV news bulletins, including packaged reports from Parliament, is also available on Internet. An independent information service, the Parliamentary Monitoring Group, provides detailed reports on the proceedings of more than forty Parliamentary committees. “We hope the minutes will provide the public with an insight into the Parliament of South Africa and its daily activity. The Group said it decided to set up its website (www.pmg.org.za) as there is no official record of the various committee proceedings. These, it says, are the engine room of Parliament and this type of information is needed by civil society to lobby the Parliament of South Africa on legislation and matters of democratic government.
African national broadcasters in many cases opt for compiling packaged reports of about 30 minutes a day and reporting Parliament in news bulletins with voice clips as appropriate, though two countries, Kenya_and_Uganda'>Kenya and Uganda are making arrangements for live TV coverage of their Parliaments. Nigeria hopes “very soon” to be reporting live while a fourth, Zambia, has been experimenting with one hour of live television coverage of debates as part of a Parliamentary reform project. This will also provide for live coverage of Parliament on FM radio. But that is for the future. At present, Kenya Broadcasting Corporation told the survey: “ We package for delayed transmission....about 30 minutes a day.” Nigeria’s Federal Radio Corporation has occasional live reports from the national Assembly but in the main “Parliamentary correspondents package proceedings”. Nigeria’s international broadcaster Voice of Nigeria told the survey that it “broadcasts packaged coverage in the form of news reports, special reports and features ”. It does not have a fixed duration for these except for a regular 15 minute feature on the National Assembly -" it all depends on the newsworthiness of the item concerned." VON added that “some broadcasters have also been known to have covered live sessions of committee hearings of parliaments especially if it concerns controversial matters.”.
Namibia falls into the pattern of broadcasting packaged programmes. It estimates its coverage amounts to three hours per week. “partly summarized by journalists and partly sound bites.” But television’s reach is limited mainly to those living in urban areas. Most Namibians get their information from reports in radio news bulletins. It is estimated that 98 percent of the population have access to radio broadcasts “and they get their information through news bulletins”.
Neighbouring Botswana broadcasts live on both radio and television the big occasions such as the President’s State of the Nation address and the official opening of the budget session. “Otherwise,” Radio Botswana told the survey, “we package Parliamentary coverage on a daily basis while Parliament is in session”. The packages are made by radio reporters and are half an hour in the evenings and 15 minutes in the morning five days a week. Botswana television shows the big events live, but they do not have any packaged programmes like the radio.
Sierra Leone’s national broadcaster, Sierra Leone Broadcasting Service, does not dedicate any specific length of time to covering Parliament - though a twenty minutes packaged report is broadcast on Wednesdays and Fridays on both radio and television. Journalists who were once barred from Parliamentary committees are now allowed into their hearings. Like most Commonwealth national broadcasters Sierra Leone TV covers special occasions. “When we have to do things live on these occasions we put a link man for radio and TV who does a commentary on the event, introducing the MPs and interviewing other MPs or pundits”. Gambia offers thirty minute news reports and compilations of proceedings in its news magazine programmes on both radio and television.
Tanzanian national TV, TvT, echoes this idea of its Parliamentary coverage acting as a spur for discussions programmes. “We have a one hour programme in which we pick a few topics raised in the house and debate the issues.” The station says that it allocates one hour per day to Parliamentary debates and uses footage for news broadcasts. There is no live television of Parliament’s proceedings. Logistically, TvT says it is a problem: “We have to transport tape from Parliament House to the station for broadcast.” Tanzania's Independent Television said it just uses segments of Parliament's proceedings in its news bulletins.
Malawi reports broadcasting Parliament, but on a limited scale - five to six hours per week. Malawi also points out it has very limited resources, including only three television cameras. Radio is far more effective as a means of communication. Something like 70 per cent of the people have access to it while fewer than 100,000 Malawians out of a total population of eleven millions own television sets.
Lesotho Television broadcasts prerecorded Parliamentary coverage on its main terrestrial channel. The amount of time given to coverage of Parliamentary affairs varies and is at the discretion of a producer.
Swazilanddoes not have live broadcasting of Parliament.
THE PACIFIC ISLANDS Samoa’s national radio 2ap broadcasts Parliamentary sittings “live and uninterrupted in Samoan and English in their entirety”. The length of the broadcasts depends on when they sit, and how long they sit, both day and night time sessions.” The regional Parliament is also shown on New Zealand’s TVOne network’s “News from the Beehive”. Television was only recently introduced. At this early stage, Televise Samoa’s coverage is a few minutes per day, in its news bulletins.
Neither Vanuatu nor Tonga broadcast their Parliaments, but the Solomon Islands Broadcasting Corporation puts out the proceedings live on television, breaking in for news bulletins during peak listening time. “Parliament’s proceedings are recorded and important items are rebroadcast as packaged programmes in current affairs coverage. These are a maximum of 15 minutes in duration, three times a day.
Fiji TV and Radio only broadcast live on special occasions: the opening of Parliament, the budget debate and important ministerial statements. When Parliament is in session, it puts out a daily summary of about 30 minutes on radio every day. Sometimes this is a straight report without clips of speakers, sometimes it includes extracts of MPs speaking. Fiji Broadcasting says it intends to begin live daily Parliamentary broadcasts in 2003.
Kiribati broadcasts coverage of Parliament on radio only. It still does not have television. Radio Kiribati puts out daily reports when Parliament is meeting.
Television in Papua New Guinea transmits Question Time which is usually about an hour long. Otherwise Parliamentary coverage is confined to items in news bulletins. Media Niugini told the survey that it requires Parliament’s broadcasting Committee’s permission to cover proceedings. “At present we are restricted to ‘Question Time’ only”
RULES FOR BROADCASTERS While they welcome greater public access to their work, the great majority of Parliaments in the Commonwealth are very conscious of their dignity and keen to uphold it. To this end they have established a series of rules to control the way the broadcasters operate. These do not vary much between the various countries. Under rules drawn up by a House of Commons Select Committee on Televising the House of Commons in the UK, for example, filming is in the chamber is very strictly controlled; there are rules on how the cameras can operate and rules on the use of film footage of Parliamentary proceedings. Broadcasters are banned from most of the Palace of Westminster, the premises of the UK Parliament, and even in the House of Commons chamber: “the director should seek, in collaboration with the Supervisor of Broadcasting, to give a balanced, fair and accurate account of proceedings, with the aim of informing viewers about the work of the house.......in carrying out this task, the director should have regard to the dignity of the House and to its function as a working body rather than as a place of entertainment. Coverage should give an unvarnished account of the proceedings of the House, free of subjective commentary and editing techniques designed to produce entertainment rather than information.”
Thus the cameras focus on the speaker, cut-away reaction shots are not permitted, except of those named in the debate. You cannot see things which you would be able to notice if you were sitting in the public gallery - for example human interest items like the black Labrador guide dog which accompanies Britain’s blind Home Secretary everywhere and sits at his feet in the Chamber. The cameras cannot show MPs yawning or dozing on the green baize benches, unless they happen to be in the frame behind the MP who is speaking or sitting next door. This happened in the early months of 2003 when the cameras, which were focusing on the Prime Minister, showed a senior colleague who had just returned from high level meetings in the United States, clearly jet lagged and trying, without much success, to stay awake throughout. If there is disruption - as for example happened in 1987 when a Labour MP hurled papers at a Minister, grabbed the Mace, the symbol of the Speaker’s authority and threw it to the floor, or when a leading Conservative front bencher grabbed the mace and whirled it above his head, or when a young woman MP from Northern Ireland tried to grab the lapels of a Conservative government minister - the rules require that the cameras must not show disorderly scenes and focus on the Speaker instead. There have been two more incidents within the past year. In one of the state parliaments in Australia, a young woman MP startled her colleagues in February 2003 on her first day in Victoria’s state Parliament by breast-feeding her 10 day old baby. A sergeant at arms immediately told the lady that her behaviour was unacceptable and escorted both mother and child from the building. Officials ruled that the child could not enter the chamber as she had not been elected to Parliament. Then in April 2002, an MP in Parliament in Ottawa grabbed the mace as a protest at tactics used to kill a bill he was sponsoring, shouting “Canada isn’t a democracy”. Neither Australians or Canadians saw the offending behaviour on TV. A senior Canadian Parliamentary journalist explained why: “It was not because we were not allowed to show the incident. We can show any footage provided to us by House of Commons Broadcasting. House of Commons Broadcasting, however, does not show these kinds of incidents. Their instructions are to broadcast individual Members only when they have been recognized by the Speaker of the House or as a group when they are voting. At other times, the camera is aimed at the Speaker’s chair. While this may afford a variety of shot lengths, the shot is always of the Speaker even if he/she is not speaking or ruling from the chair.” But the episode was picked up on microphones near the protesting MP and broadcast on radio.
Another area where the Parliaments are concerned to protect their dignity is over the use which can be made of any recordings or footage. The wording of directives issued by the British and Australian parliaments, for example, are very similar. The Guidelines issued by Australia’s Joint Committee on the Broadcasting of Parliamentary Proceedings spell out that reports of proceedings shall be such as to provide a balanced presentation of different views: “recordings of proceedings (of the Senate and the House of representatives) are only to be used for the purposes of providing fair and accurate reports of proceedings. They are not to be used for:
“a) for political party advertising
b) satire or ridicule
c) commercial sponsorship or advertising.
No extracts of Parliamentary proceedings may be used in any form of advertising, promotion or other form of publicity
No extracts of Parliamentary proceedings may be used in any light entertainment programme or in a programme of political satire, though extracts of Parliamentary proceedings may be included in broadcast magazine programmes which also contain music or humorous features provided that the different types of items are kept separate.”
Canada emphasizes the need for a fair and impartial account. CBC journalists are told: “ This means that for Parliamentary events approximately equivalent treatment should be given to the leading speaker for each of the parties.” Then the rules go into detail about how the broadcasters may film. In Australia, it is a requirement that the cameras should focus on the Member speaking: “As a general principle, focus on the member called to speak. Shots should be no closer than head and shoulders.”. The Canadian guidelines stipulate much the same: “The cameras should cover the members that are recognized by the Speakers in the Chamber and the Committee Chair in committee meetings.” It is the same in the British House of Commons: “The standard format depicting the Member who has the floor should be a head and shoulders shot, not a close up. The camera should normally remain on the Member speaking until he or she has finished.” The camera is allowed to switch to another Member in certain circumstances. Here are the Australian rules: “Reaction shots of a member are permitted
1. when a member has sought information which is being supplied by the MP speaking
2. when the member is referred to in debate
3. if the member is in the designated seat.
On this point, the British Parliament is almost identical: “occasional cutaway shots to illustrate individual reactions are allowed - but only to show a Member who has been referred to by the Member speaking.”
This pattern is followed in other Commonwealth parliaments. Guidelines issued by a joint Select Committee of Parliament in Trinidad stated: “Coverage should reflect a full a full appreciation of Parliamentary proceedings. That is to say the aims and objectives of Bills and arguments for and against them.” The Trinidad guidelines state that the press and public galleries should not be shown. Special care should be taken so that shots are not shown of the Presiding Officer of Parliament getting advice from the Clerk of the Table. “Roving or reaction shots may be taken but opportunities to embarrass unsuspecting members i.e. shots not connected with the proceedings should not be used.” Cameras are told to ignore “deliberate misconduct designed to secure television coverage. Deliberate misconduct designed to secure TV coverage ought not to achieve this aim.” Interruptions and demonstrations in the gallery should in no circumstances be televised as they do not constitute Parliamentary Proceedings. In cases of unparliamentary behaviour, “ i.e. should any member be in defiance of the Chair, the camera should normally focus on the Presiding Officer not on the member behaving out of turn.” And on occasions of grave disorder, the guidelines say, “the camera should focus on the occupant of the Chair for as long as proceedings continue or until order has been restored”.
The UK House of Commons rules are very similar: neither interruptions from nor demonstrations in the galleries are “proceedings and as such they should in no circumstances be televised. If such an incident should occur, the director should cut either to a wide-angle shot of the chamber which does not show the offending incident, or to the occupant of the Chair”. The press and public galleries, officers and visitors boxes behind the Speaker’s Chair - not being directly related to the proceedings - should not be shown other than unavoidably as part of wide-angle or other authorized shots of the Chamber.”
The Australian and British Parliaments also prohibit the cameras from showing close up shots of members’ papers. And great care must be taken in showing the Speaker. Westminster gives this directive to the camera operator: “Shots designed to show the Speaker receiving advice from a clerk at the table should not be used. Officers of the House and Doorkeepers attending in the Chamber should not normally be shown unless they are taking an active part in the proceedings. In no case should close-up shots of members or officers’ papers be taken.”
The Malta and Bahamas regulations say that the cameras must “focus on the Member recognized by the Speaker and show just the head and torso of the Member. Wide-angled and over the shoulder camera shots of the Member is permitted.” Kenyan MPs have been told not to bring their mobile telephones in the Chamber. Uganda’s Parliament is drawing up rules for the press to follow while covering Parliament. So far little details have been given about what they will say but according to Radio Uganda, in one of its bulletins in February 2003, Parliament has been told that: “Issues like reading a newspaper, sleeping or dozing, and talking among MPs, are among the issues that the press would be barred from running on their station”.
Sanctions for breaking these directives are much the same throughout the Commonwealth - restrictions on access and in more serious cases censure and suspension.
GUIDELINES FOR JOURNALISTS
In the larger states of the Commonwealth, the main public service broadcasters - Australia’s ABC, CBC in Canada and the BBC in Britain - have all drawn up comprehensive guidelines for their journalists. They place special store on objective journalism and in their guidelines to their editorial staff emphasize the need not to allow their professional judgment to be influenced by pressures from political, commercial or other sectional interests or their own views (ABC Guidelines p 18 6.3.1). ABC seeks through its broadcasts to be “a pace setter in community discussion, not for the purpose of shaping community views and values”. ABC says that for the proper functioning of representative government, it is essential that the public should be fully informed of the issues of current debate and the position and policies of those parties competing for political office. This is based on several assumptions: that the airwaves are public property and the public is entitled to hear the principal views on all questions of importance; that broadcasting must not fall under the control of individuals or of organized pressure groups and that the right to hear alternative policies and points of view is inherent in the concept of objective reporting and impartiality. The ABC’s Charter of Editorial Practice lists its 4 key values as honesty, fairness, independence and respect: “All programme makers should present a wide range of perspectives and must not unduly favour one over others. Editorial staff must observe the highest standards and not allow their professional judgment to be influenced by pressures from political, commercial or other sectional interests or by their own personal views.....There must be no external interference in the presentation or content of programmes.”
The Canadian guidelines say that to achieve balance and fairness, a journalistic organization should ensure that the widest possible range of views is expressed.....the challenging of accepted orthodoxies should be reported but so also should the established views be clearly put. CBC does not expect a journalist not to have views. But these must not be allowed to come through: And the journalist must not succumb to bias or prejudice. “It is important that a balanced, overall view of controversial matters to avoid the appearance of promoting particular opinions or being manipulated into doing so by events.”
In an open society, the CBC guidelines say credibility is an essential attribute of a journalistic organization. Credibility is dependent not only on qualities such as accuracy and fair reporting but also upon avoidance by both the organization and its journalists of associations or contacts which could reasonably give rise to perceptions of partiality. Any situation which could cause reasonable apprehension that a journalist or the organization is biased or under the influence of any pressure group whether ideological, political, financial social or cultural must be avoided.
The guidelines issued to all producer and journalists at the BBC says due impartiality lies at the heart of the BBC. “All programmes...should be open minded and fair and show a respect for truth. No significant strand of thought should go unreflected or under-represented.” And like its Canadian counterpart, the BBC is concerned to maintain its credibility. It is important that audiences must be able to trust the integrity of BBC programmes. They should be confident that decisions are made only for good editorial reasons, not as a result of improper pressure, be it political, commercial or special interest.