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.