No middle path for live TV broadcast

Limited use

Limited use

Middlepath (very good nickname) had this to say on my last entry about the National Assembly’s decision to discontinue live TV broadcast for most of its proceedings: “OL and others, please do not abuse the provisions of the Constitution to suit your position on the live telecast. The Constitution says that the proceedings of the NA should be conducted in public but the speaker has the discretion to exclude the press and the pubic from all or any part of the proceedings….(Art 10,15). Public should not be understood as live coverage – it should be understood as open for public observation. In that respect, any one who wishes to observe any session from the public gallery is free to do so…”

This is what Article 10.15 of the Constitution really says: “The proceedings of Parliament shall be conducted in public. However, the Speaker or the Chairperson may exclude the press and the public from all or any part of the proceedings if there is a compelling need to do so in the interests of public order, national security or any other situation, where publicity would seriously prejudice public interest.”

Yes, Middlepath is correct: the Speaker does have “…the discretion to exclude the press and the public from all or any part of the proceedings…” But don’t forget the condition for the Speaker to exercise these powers: “…if there is a compelling need to do so in the interests of public order, national security or any other situation, where publicity would seriously prejudice public interest.”

So the question is would live TV broadcast of the National Assembly proceedings compromise public order and national security? And would it prejudice the public interest? If so, the Speaker can prevent BBS’s live TV broadcast, along with the rest of the media and the public. If not, the Speaker cannot.

By the way, our Honourable Speaker is not responsible for the decision to discontinue the live TV broadcast. It was us, the members of the national assembly. And only two members, both from the opposition, felt that the live TV broadcast should continue. Political analysts will find this odd, because live TV broadcast gives the members of the ruling party disproportionate access to and coverage by the media. So these analysts will ask why then, when the ruling party stands to benefit so much from live TV coverage, are they against it?

With regard to Middlepath’s advice that “public” should not be confused as “live coverage”, he may have a point. But if “public” means “public observation….from the gallery”, it would mean that we are willing to purposely exclude the majority of our population from viewing the proceedings of the Assembly. After all, not many Bhutanese can afford the journey to Thimphu just to observe their parliamentarians. For our people’s sake, for democracy’s sake, let our wider public also participate by viewing the Parliament’s proceedings on BBS’s live telecast.

But there’s still one more issue. Is BBS a part of the press? If so, they may be excluded, along with the rest of the media, from observing all or part of the proceedings, but on condition that their presence undermines the interest of public order or national security. As a matter of fact, TV is part of the press. And live TV coverage is the highest form of news media – viewers get to see and hear events as they really take place, not as others say how they’ve taken place.

Live TV poll

National shame

National shame

Our last poll, on the PCS, has been up for hardly four days. But it generated 51 votes. Almost three-fourths of them were cast against the position classification system. And only 14 voters supported the PCS. Several of the commentators, however, clarified that the PCS is actually a useful system, but that its flaws come from poor implementation. I agree with them.

If the RCSC wants to continue with the PCS, it should implement the system completely. In particular, it should put into practice the dual principles of “right person for the right job” and “equal money for equal value of work” that the PCS is founded upon. Half way measures will not work. And exceptions and the lack of transparency will cause civil servants to lose confidence in the system.

Our new poll is on the National Assembly’s decision to stop live TV broadcasts for most of the session. I’d written about the National Assembly’s decision a few days ago, but several people have asked for a poll.

Earlier this month, I’d also written about the BBS’s new television facilities. In a span of three weeks the BBS inaugurated a spanking new Nu 200 million National TV Centre, and they were told that they can no longer broadcast most of the National Assembly proceedings. What this is, is a national shame.

Broadcasting bad news

Broadcasting service

Broadcasting service

During a recent meeting to discuss the agenda for the next session of the National Assembly, MPs decided that live TV broadcast would be allowed only for the opening and closing ceremonies, the PM’s address, and for discussions related to public accounts and anticorruption. Only two MPs, both from the opposition, argued that the proceedings of the National Assembly should continue to be broadcast live on TV.

I cannot understand why anyone would want to discontinue the live broadcast of the National Assembly proceedings. Consider that:

  1. the Constitution requires that “The proceedings of Parliament shall be conducted in public”;
  2. live TV broadcast enhances the accountability of the members of parliament to the people who elected them;
  3. many people, especially outside Thimphu, enjoy following the proceedings in the Parliament and, thereby, participating in the democratic process; and
  4. BBS, which does not charge any fees for broadcasting the proceedings of the National Assembly, has not said that they cannot, for whatever reason, continue this service;

Unlike in many countries, our people actually like to follow the debates inside parliament. This is good. And we should be nurturing this interest in the democratic process. Not suppressing it.

Our honourable MPs would do well to listen to their people. And to the Constitution

New TV centre

An anchor

An anchor

In 1973 the National Youth Association of Bhutan, consisting of fifty to sixty young women and men, decided that Thimphu needed a radio station. So they asked if they could use the government’s radio transmitter on Sundays when the wireless station in Taba normally closed and freed up a 400-watt transmitter. The Royal Government obliged. And Radio NYAB, which later became BBS, was born.

Today, 35 years later, HRH Ashi Chimi Yangzom Wangchuck inaugurated BBS’s new TV Centre. The Centre, financed by GOI, cost Nu 200 million and is fitted with state-of-the-art broadcast equipment. This will allow BBS to play an even more meaningful role in democratic Bhutan.

Dasho Paljor J. Dorji, i.e., Dasho Benji, one of the founding members of NYAB, attended today’s ceremony. He was very active and still youthful. And he seemed quite pleased at the outcome of NYAB’s initiative.

Watching BBS

Consider this: The BBS has already televised the prime minister’s speech during the National Day celebrations in Pema Gatshel on four different days – 23rd December, 25th December, 28th December and 31st December.

Now consider this: The BBS has televised His Majesty the King’s address to the nation during the National Day celebrations in Thimphu only on one day – 17th December.