Opposition breathes fire on Govt. for switching off live TV feed of Parliament sessions
Thursday, 23 January 2014 00:19
By Ashwin Hemmathagama, Our Lobby Correspondent
Discontinued live telecast of Parliament proceedings heated the House yesterday with the Opposition blaming the Government for failing to stratify freedom of expression, which is safeguarded in the Constitution.
Opposition lawmaker Ravi Karunanayake who raised the matter of termination of transmissions wanted to know the reasons and the person responsible for such decision. “On Tuesday I raised it in this house seeking the reasons to discontinue the live telecast of the Parliament proceedings. Mobitel has invested Rs. 12 million approximately for this project. There is no transparency in decisions taken in this House,” he said.
Leader of the Opposition Ranil Wickremesinghe held that the transmission was launched with the expectation of fair use. “The Speaker launched this transmission with a request not to take mean advantages out of it. We also supported this initiative with the intension of rectifying if there were issues. But the particular telecast was never identified as a test transmission. Moving on, no major incident of taking mean advantages took place and there is no fundamental reason to stop the transmission,” he said.
MP Joseph Michael Perera said: “When MP Ravi Karananayake raised the reasons on Tuesday, the Deputy Chairman of Committees responded. According to him technical errors have stopped the transmission. If it is so, he has misled the house.”
In response, UPFA Member of Parliament A.H.M. Azwer held that no member can question the remarks or an order made by the Chair. “When the particular question was raised, it was the Deputy Chairman of Committees who was chairing at that time. As far as the test transmission is concerned it is not a rule or a law found among the Standing Orders. It is not an excepted principle to telecast the entire proceedings and principles should be adopted,” he said.
However, the Opposition continued expressing their view on the matter. United National Party MP and Chief Opposition Whip John Amaratunga said: “It is unfair to discontinue the transmission. There was a Party Leader’s meeting held on 20 December and this matter was not taken up. So, why discontinue the service in the absence of the Speaker? This is nothing more than going against his decision.”
JVP MP Anura Dissanayake said: “The Speaker while addressing the House on 20 December last year, the final day of the budget debate, cautioned the members and did not decide to stop the transmission. The House met on Tuesday (21) for the first time after 20 December. So, on what grounds was the telecast is stopped? You are identifying this as a test transmission, which has exposed the real situation to the public. Is it bad to see the comments made in this House about the President’s family? Is this the reason which made you to stop it? Decision to stop this was not raised at the Party Leaders meeting. Just because you hold the Deputy Speaker position it is not sanctioned to according to your likening. This is a serious violation, which prevents people from knowing the truth.”
MP Ranjan Ramanayake said: “Some time back Minister Keheliya Rambukwella faulted me for using the live transmission wrongfully. The corrupt Ministers are against the live feed and the others both in the Government and the Opposition are in favour. But the Speaker held that Party Leaders decision will be the last on this matter. A considerable expense was borne to have the test transmission.”
MP Eran Wickramaratne said: “It would be proper to make the Parliament aware of the results of this telecast, which you identify as a test transmission. This is a situation where freedom of expression is stifled. If it is being done it should be done in consultation at a Party Leaders Meeting and the Speaker assured us in doing so. May be there is a need for a code of conduct in relation to the transmission. We agree but need to take a unilateral decision.”
MP Buddhika Pathirana said: “This transmission was inaugurated by Speaker. We all know that inaugurations are not held for test transmissions. I think the Speaker is misled. Secondly, terminating the transmission has violated the privileges of all 225 members in this House.”
Finally, the Deputy Speaker Chandima Weerakkody said: “The telecast was nothing more than a test transmission held during the Budget period. We have received response from various persons. Based on these responses, the Speaker will rule how the live telecasts should continue. There is no issue with the screen fixed outside the Parliament from telecasting live but the telecast over Peo TV is an issue. There is no agreement whatsoever between Peo TV and Parliament. Both parties should agree on the terms and conditions to continue the transmission. The Speaker will consider the outcome of the test transmission and decide, upon returning to Sri Lanka.”