Should parliamentary sessions be broadcast or not?

Following parliamentary statements asserting that the live broadcasting of sessions is an internal matter, the debate continues.

The head of Egyptian television Safaa Hegazy announced the first session would be broadcast live, but said that a decision hadn’t been made on whether or not to air subsequent sessions, although she said Egyptian television channels were prepared to broadcast at any time.

The parliamentary Secretary General Ahmed Saad Eddin maintained the allocation of broadcasting rights should be the concern of parliament and the speaker alone, and that the opening session should only be aired on Egyptian television.

Many members of parliament are in favor of recording the sessions and airing selective edits rather than live broadcasts, according to the privately owned Al-Masry Al-Youm newspaper.

Member of Parliament Abdel-Hamid Kamal strongly opposes the broadcasting of sessions, claiming it will “tarnish the image of the People’s Assembly and provide opponents with an opportunity for ridicule” as “most members are new.”

Although Kamal highlights a strong Egyptian tradition of keeping detailed minutes of sessions and recording interviews with members of parliament, he suggests airing the proceedings live wouldn’t provide for the editing out of “improper articulations.”

The Tagammu Party representative for Suez tells Mada Masr that live broadcasts would inevitably “lead to heightened populist rhetoric from members in an attempt to attract attention,” as he says was “evident in the last parliament, which witnessed the adjourning of sessions for the call to prayer and the adding of phrases to the standard oath.” He believes this could be avoided by broadcasting an edited version of proceedings “in a measured way to avoid exaggerations,” as he says journalists in attendance can report on the rest and defend public interests.

Cairo University media Professor Safwat al-Alem thinks similarly that there is a need to balance the right of the voting public to monitor their representatives and to avoid excessive exaggerations by members seeking to show off. He suggests the sessions should be edited and broadcast for an experimental period of one month, giving them the space to form and announce alliances and coalitions, and reduce conflict and tension for later broadcasts.

Alem suggests that the recording of sessions should be conducted by more than one media agency with diverse funding, “so that the public is not denied certain interventions depending on the interests of particular parties.”

Sunday’s opening session was broadcast on Nile News and Egyptian satellite channels, as well as Sawt al-Shaab (the voice of the people), primarily tasked with airing parliamentary sessions. Other studios are also hosting members of parliament between sessions.

Egyptian television also broadcast the opening session of the first parliament after the January 25, 2011 revolution from Sawt al-Shaab in January 2012, and continued to air the activities of both houses of parliament — the People’s and Shura councils, as well as any inquiries or legislative decisions.

At the time, many members of parliament were dissatisfied with the coverage, maintaining certain members were always appearing on screen and others were excluded. One member of parliament accused the channel of wasting public funds, due to the low number of viewers.

On its Facebook and Twitter pages, Mada Masr asked readers if they wanted to see the sessions broadcast live a few days before the first session on Sunday.

Around 95 percent of Mada’s Twitter users said they wished to see the sessions broadcast, and most Facebook users agreed, citing negative expectations of parliament as a reason for such transparency. 

Several users asserted the broadcasts would be an opportunity for humor and ridicule, and others were interested in hearing the differing opinions of members of parliament. One said, “It is my right and the right of every citizen to know how the country is being run and to be able to monitor parliament.” Another commented, “I support live broadcast so that MPs are sure to attend and know they are being monitored and evaluated, but the important question is — ‘Does the state want the sessions to be broadcast or not.’ I think they made the decision not to broadcast to cover up the humiliating performances of MPs.”

Others commented: “We want to see what the Lords are doing and sort them good from bad, and know the issues they are discussing and the extent of their understanding of the affairs and defense of the nation.”

“They were always broadcast in the days of Mubarak; what has changed that they consider banning it now?”

“Of course [they should be broadcast]: Firstly, so they know the people are watching, and secondly so that people who are into politics and parties know how to develop this council and have a place in the next parliament.”

“I support the broadcast, not only for the sake of comedy, but also to know what laws will be passed … it is important for people to see with their own eyes.”

“Sessions must be broadcast live, so all positions and farce can be recorded and documented, otherwise we will only see the government’s version, and of course we know what this looks like.”

“If France is broadcasting sessions of its parliament, I welcome the broadcast of ours.”

Others were more hesitant about live broadcasts, suggesting they should be selectively aired, depending on the importance of the sessions. One reader was concerned about the content that would be discussed with children and women watching, and another claimed, “The world will laugh at us. Enough! We’ve hit rock bottom.”

One user wrote: “No, to preserve privacy and not allow the media to agitate and exploit differences of opinion.” Other Mada Masr readers were skeptical as to whether it would make any difference at all: “We neither have the health or the nerves … it won’t make a difference anyway.”

Beesan Kassab 

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