Parliaments and Broadcasters|
The challenge of broadcasting parliamentary proceedings
In the words of Mr. Dan Landau, former Head of the Knesset Network, "the fact is that parliaments find it difficult to convey any parliamentary message, because it is considered boring by the media, especially the commercial media. It just doesn't sell. Parliament suffers from the poor image of its members, but politicians will never miss a chance to get some free TV time. So count them in to begin with but be aware of the need to limit their control over content. He added that politicians will tend to see things in political terms: left versus right, minority versus majority, coalition versus opposition; this is what parliament is all about. So before you know it, you might find that your nice little new television channel is becoming a pawn in the political game".
Mr. Carlos Hoffmann, Secretary General of the Chilean Senate, explained that "the core issue is how to effectively ensure the right and aspirations of citizens to contact and interact with the authorities or their legislators. The socio-historical context of the debate is particularly sensitive, for it is characterized by an obvious crisis of political legitimacy at the global level and the attitude of citizens to politics is - more or less - one of dissatisfaction, disenchantment and apathy, according to numerous studies conducted throughout the world."
Mr. Joe Phaweni, Head of the Policy Management Unit at the South African Parliament, said that the majority of South Africans live in rural areas. "They are poor and unemployed. Electricity and its benefits are new developments to many of those people in rural areas. So owning a television set is a luxury that most people in rural areas cannot afford. Therefore, at this stage of our development, as a new democracy, we cannot talk of a parliamentary television broadcasting channel if the intention is to reach the people in those far-flung areas. Parliamentary activities affect the lives of citizens; the public should therefore engage and actively participate in parliamentary processes".
Cooperation with networks
According to Mr. Peter Knowles, BBC Parliament Controller, "offering parliamentary debate and related journalism on a consistent basis is extremely important. We run programmes in strips across the week: four, five or seven days a week, in the same place, at the same time. That is extremely important in terms of helping digital viewers moving between hundreds of different channels to find what they are looking for. I would urge all people concerned with running parliamentary channels to think very hard about what kind of cooperation agreement could be made with networks to get that kind of trailing".
PARLIAMENTS AND BROADCASTERS|
The role of public broadcasters
Mr. Fritz Pleitgen, EBU President,WRD Director General and founder of Phoenix, noted that "given the omnipresence of the media and its insatiable hunger for instantaneous, short-lived information, virtually every thought, idea or statement emanating from parliament or any other given political forum is subject to immediate publication. In fact, it has become virtually impossible for parliamentarians to resist this 'lawof nature', assuming of course that they wish to do so in the first place".
EBU Vice-President, Mr. Boris Bergant, enumerated the four main characteristics of what is public service broadcasting in the true sense of the term. "The first prerequisite is that it should be independent of politics, economic interests, all sorts of lobbies, but at the same time open to all of them. The second is pluralism. We should be plural in presenting our cultures: modern, classical, mass and elite. We should be open to all minorities, which is one of the main tasks of public service broadcasting". The third prerequisite is credibility. "But credibility can be established only if we are also making quality programmes. The fourth prerequisite of public broadcasters is accountability. This also entails transparency, including the financial sense of the word. Because we are financed by the public, we are accountable to this public", he said.
C-SPAN: A Pioneer
Mr. Terry Murphy, C-SPAN Vice-President of Programming and Executive Producer, explained that C-SPAN is unique in the parliamentary channel set-up. "We are a private, not for-profit, non-commercial, nongovernmental network. All of our money comes from the telecommunication companies that carry us. They pay us about 4.5 cents per subscriber, our budget is between US$ 35 and 40 million a year, and we have approximately 260 employees. It took us a long time to get there. All our employees are based in Washington D.C. and we now have three television channels, a radio station that can be heard throughout the United States and up to twelve Internet sites on which we broadcast on a daily basis. Our coverage of the parliament or Congress only accounts for about twenty per cent of our programming. The other part of our programming is devoted to congressional meetings. On any given day, there are about forty congressional meetings taking place in Washington and we can only cover about four or five of them. We decide which four or five to cover. Since we are a private company, that decision is ours".
Small can be useful
Mr. Dawood Kuttab, Director of the Institute of Modern Media at the Al Quds University in Ramallah, believes that sometimes, being a small outfit can be very useful. "Most Palestinians didnít even know what their members of parliament looked like. Putting them on television was very exiting for us and just the opposite of what we had heard all along: that parliament is very boring. It gave us a chance to know what people looked like and who they were. People had never heard about them in the past, they had never seen them, so we decided to take the initiative. When I wanted to broadcast from the Palestinian Parliament, I had three arguments with the Speaker. He wanted to control the broadcasting and I knew that if he controlled it, it would become a kind of propaganda and it would not be what the public wanted. The Speaker wanted it to be broadcast at night - although sessions are usually held in the day - and I said that it had to be live. The third problem was that he wanted it to be edited and I said that it had to be unedited gavel-to-gavel. These are the three principles I stuck to, because I felt that unless we got that, it would not provide the public service that was required".
Broadcasters believe in independent editorial decisions
The Rapporteur of the Geneva Conference, Mr. Eric Fichtelius, Executive Producer and Editor of SVT 24 Direct (Sweden), advised parliamentary officials to listen attentively to the experiences of broadcasters present. "Our unanimous feeling is that we believe in independent editorial decisions. There are one billion Internet users today and that number is growing every day. Ten years ago, we couldn't have any frequencies, and now we have so many frequencies to use. Internet provides us with marvellous opportunities, and digital distribution, both on terrestrial transmission stations and satellite, gives us so many more frequencies, and is opening up the whole market for political or parliamentary broadcasting".
Mr. Fichtelius said that combining webcasting with documentaries on a parliament's home page would provide "an interesting political tool for citizens, with protocols from parliaments, documents from the opposition and the government, background documents, and MP voting records". He concluded by mentioning a German study on why people hate politicians. The researchers studied how politicians were presented on television and it turned out that "if a leading politician was allowed to speak for himself, in his own voice, showing his own face, people would respect him much more than if he did not".