The Parliament and the Press

The Parliament and the media have complementary roles in the democratic process that can be enhanced to better inform the electorates, was a consensus evolved at the first-ever meeting of representatives of Commonwealth Parliamentarians and Journalists in New Delhi in 2000.  The meeting identified the ways to improve the relationship between Parliament and the media. Acknowledging that the Parliament and media must work together, the meeting realized that there would always remain a degree of mutual suspicion as an essential part of this relationship.

The meeting pin-pointed that the trend of government making statements outside Parliament draws media attention away from the Parliament and tends to detract from the role and the importance of business conducted in the House. This in turn means that the media is informing the electorate inadequately of the work of its representatives. The meeting urged that the Press should strive to make Parliament the “main game” in the politics of the country.

What Parliaments and the Parliamentarians can do:

  1. Encourage the government to ensure Freedom of Expression
  2. Encourage the government to support right to information.
  3. Recognize the value of an independent media in contributing towards the development of a well-informed society through its exposure to a wide range of well-articulated views.
  4. Appreciate that the media are also responsive to the people, serving as their watchdog in reporting the actions of Parliaments and governments.
  5. Develop more imaginative and attractive ways to enhance parliamentary coverage so that the people are encouraged to take greater interest in their society’s principal democratic forum.
  6. Develop new procedures to ensure that the vital issues of the day are discussed in Parliament promptly.
  7. Accept that a lack of some privacy is a necessary price that public office holders must pay if a free media is to remain bedrock of democracy.
  8. Explain policies fully to the news media but avoid manipulating the way the story is told.
  9. Urge, ministers and members to deliver important statements and reports in, rather than outside Parliament.
  10. Facilitate more coverage of Parliament by opening the proceedings of select and other committees to the media.
  11. Take steps to raise the standard of parliamentary debate by: striving to elect high caliber candidates, enhancing research support, encouraging a better awareness of what the media needs, and discouraging unruly behavior, abusive language and personal remarks in the Chamber which inevitably lead to adverse media coverage.
  12. Respect the media as a legitimate reflection of public opinion, public concerns and social problems and reaction to policies and programmes.
  13. Provide more training opportunities and information for journalists on parliamentary practices and procedure
  14. Be accessible and honest in all dealings with the media rather than remaining aloof and secretive, or attempting to manipulate or overly influence media coverage.
  15. Avoid conducting relations with the media in an adversarial manner or attempting to shield themselves, their parties or governments from media investigations that are in the public interest.
  16. Provide the media with full access to basic information and documents produced by the parliamentary process, such as access to parliamentary libraries, the provision of on-line information and the distribution of parliamentary speeches promptly after delivery in the House.
  17. Take full advantage of new information technology to provide authoritative information to the media and the public
  18. Preserve the independence of the journalist by encouraging newspapers to establish, support and respect a voluntary self-regulating body which is allowed to function effectively, and which suits local circumstances
  19. Public broadcasting should be allowed to be politically impartial
  20. Make reports of parliamentary proceedings in other countries much more accessible to Parliamentarians and the media, especially by use of new information technology.
  21. Ensure diversity within media ownership to prevent private monopoly and the state control.
  22. Advocate measures to protect journalists and journalism during times of strife.

What the media and journalists can do:

  1. Gain a comprehensive knowledge of, and respect for, the role and position of Parliament and Parliamentarians.
  2. Provide fair and factually accurate coverage of Parliament as the duly elected voice of the people.
  3. Develop more imaginative and attractive ways to enhance parliamentary coverage so that the people are encouraged to take greater interest in their society’s principal democratic forum.
  4. Expose the public more to the battle of ideas by providing balanced coverage of Parliament and paying attention to views expressed by opposition and other MNAs
  5. Monitor more closely the activities of parliamentary committees and analyze their reports and other documents in more detail.
  6. Respect the rights of public figure and their families to a degree of personal privacy consistent with a responsible definition of the public’s need to know.
  7. Ensure that parliamentary and political news coverage and analysis are clear, factual, objective and differentiated from opinion
  8. Put greater emphasis on inquiring more deeply and objectively into public policy issues, focusing less on trivialities and not relying solely on news releases
  9. Assign to cover Parliament the most competent journalists available to ensure that the broad range of often complex issues in Parliament is adequately covered.
  10. Avoid conducting relations with Parliaments in an adversarial manner or in a way which unfairly denigrates Parliament and its members
  11. Provide constructive criticism and informed and fearless coverage of political issues so that an increasingly aware electorate has the information it needs to participate in the democratic process.
  12. Refrain from fabricating controversies and overplaying internal differences of opinion within political parties, which may often be no more than honest disagreements over policy.
  13. Avoid calls for legislation or threats of legislation to control the media by maintaining high standards of coverage of Parliament, politics and society
  14. In formulating standards, consider codes already in place.

[Source: The Parliamentarian April 2000]

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