Dodoma. It is now clear that the decision to stop live coverage of parliamentary proceedings was, to some extent, politically motivated.
The debate has divided MPs along two political affiliations, one demanding restoration of live Bunge coverage and another supporting the ban.
Save for few CCM lawmakers against the ban, the ruling party generally backs the decision while all MPs on the back bench are against the idea altogether.
The Budget session has for the past one month or so been going on, but calls on restoration of the live coverage of Parliament sessions have dominated the debates.
Some Opposition MPs accuse the government of having a hand in the Parliament’s decision to establish its studios for providing private broadcasters with recorded sessions of Parliament debates, claims from which the government has distanced itself.
Shadow minister for Information, Culture, Arts and Sports, Mr Joseph Mbilinyi (Mbeya Urban – Chadema) spent almost half of his rejoinder speech on the minister’s budget estimates on castigating the government’s decision to curtail the freedom of speech and of the right to information.
He cited the ban imposed on live coverage of Bunge sessions as one good example of how the government had been breaking the laws, mainly the 1977 Constitution, which gives people the right to information.
Mr Mbilinyi, popularly known as Mr Sugu, said there was clear evidence that the government had ulterior motives behind the decision to ban Bunge live coverage.
“The Opposition camp in Parliament would like to register its official stand that the government has abrogated article 18 of the Constitution in this,” he said.
Mr Mwita Waitara (Ukonga – Chadema) criticised the minister, Mr Nape Nnauye, for falling into a group of the CCM ministers he (Nnauye) himself ridiculed by calling them mizigo -- burdensome.
“But as far as this issue is concerned, you’ve exceeded that rank. I don’t even know the name deserve,” he said.
However, Deputy Speaker Tulia Ackson responded to Mr Kabwe, saying some MPs were taken to the Parliamentary Ethics Committee as a result of their conduct in the House and not because of what they said.
The Political Platform has learnt that apart from Mr Kabwe, Ms Halima Mdee (Kawe – Chadema) and Mr John Heche (Tarime Rural - Chadema) have also been summoned to appear before the committee.
But the government defended the decision. While Mr Nape disassociated the government from the establishment of the Bunge Studio, the minister for Constitutional Affairs and Justice, Dr Harrison Mwakyembe, refuted claims that banning Bunge live coverage amounts to contravening article 18 of the Constitution.
There was nowhere in the supreme law the right to live coverage of the Bunge sessions was granted, he said, explaining that such restrictions should be expected because there was no absolute right.
“Name me one country which gives its people rights without restrictions and I will conduct a harambee to raise funds so that we can shift you (Mr Mbilinyi) there,” he said.
Mr Nnauye clarified that the 10th Parliament had actually reached decision to establish the Bunge studios when he was not even an MP yet.
The decision was arrived at by Parliament itself and that MPs had set aside money for the establishment of the studios, he added, stressing: “I think the problem here is that most MPs are not aware of how the studios work. Fortunately, they are not far, they are in this same building. I, therefore, would like to urge MPs to visit them and learn how they operate,” he said.
Responding to Mr Waitara’s assertion that the state-owned TV station aired Bunge sessions after midnight, Mr Nnauye said as a broadcaster, the TBC had the choice on when to air its programmes.
He said after airing the one-hour Bunge programme at 9pm, TBC had decided to air the entire proceedings after midnight in order to let people know what transpired in Parliament on that particular day.
Mr Nnauye said according to broadcasting regulations, it was Bunge itself which had the mandate to arrange how broadcast of its proceedings should be. “Parliament is a pillar of governance and the government cannot force it to change its regulations,” he insisted.
But he also said the government, as an intermediator between Bunge and information stakeholders, had given room for the sector to amicably resolve the misunderstanding.
On April 19, the live coverage of proceedings in parliament ended as a government decision to halt the service went into effect.
Mr Nnauye first announced the move in January, leading to protests from the opposition party and journalists’ groups, who said they regarded the decision to stop live broadcasts of parliamentary debates as tantamount to censorship.
When Mr Nnauye announced details of the ban in Parliament on January 27, he said the cost of live broadcast of parliamentary proceedings by the state broadcaster was unbearable.
He told a press conference on February 2 that the service cost the state broadcaster Sh4 billion a year, claims the opposition parties dismissed, saying the service was halted because of costs and offered to pay for the service, but their offer was rejected
Live broadcasts of parliamentary proceedings, which air for about four hours a day while parliament is in session, gained popularity in Tanzania.
Mr Absalom Kibanda, an editor and a former chairman of the Tanzania Editors Forum was quoted as saying there was little trust that selected highlights would accurately reflect the proceedings.
He said the government’s move was widely viewed as an attempt to stifle press freedom. “Live broadcast of parliamentary proceedings is one of the most important avenues through which the people can see their elected representatives holding cabinet ministers and government officials to account.
“The government has however never been comfortable with this and has tried to ban the broadcasts several times before, and we are very disappointed that they have carried through with their threats this time,” he said.
Mr Theophil Makunga, chairman of the Tanzania Editors Forum, was also quoted as saying, in turn: “We condemn the decision for it has denied people their rights to information ... To prohibit cameras in the debating chamber is an open strategy to violate freedom of press.”
However, empirical evidence show that since the coverage was halted Members of Parliament have been recording parliamentary debates on their mobile phones and uploading the footage to social media.