x Abu Dhabi, UAEWednesday 24 January 2018

Broad support for streaming FNC live on TV

Former members of the FNC say they would like to see sessions broadcast live on national television.

Obaid Humaid al Tayer, second right, Minister of State for Financial Affairs speaks during an FNC session in Abu Dhabi. Experts believe live streaming could help the public to understand the council functioning. Ravindranath K / The National
Obaid Humaid al Tayer, second right, Minister of State for Financial Affairs speaks during an FNC session in Abu Dhabi. Experts believe live streaming could help the public to understand the council functioning. Ravindranath K / The National

ABU DHABI // As the new FNC prepares for its inaugural session on Tuesday, some analysts and former members are recommending that it should be broadcast live to engage the public and hold members accountable.

Ahmed Shabeeb Al Dhaheri, the former deputy speaker of the FNC, said live streaming could help the public to understand what the council was about.

"Each session is around six to seven hours. You cannot write it all in one page," Mr Al Dhaheri said in a recent symposium at Zayed University. "Maybe live streaming would be better."

But he was not convinced that anyone without a professional interest would feel compelled to watch a whole session, and members might be distracted by the cameras.

It was natural, Mr Al Dhaheri said, for women to fiddle with their abaya or shayla if they were being filmed.

"That is why in courts people draw, they don't take pictures," he said. "I think live streaming is great but it has some problems."

Neil Bennet, a producer at BBC Parliament, which broadcasts British parliament proceedings, said while these concerns were legitimate, practice had proved otherwise.

"We had similar concerns when we first started but we have found it has helped increase interest from the public," Mr Bennet said.

Big debates, such as the ones over Britain's participation in the invasion of Iraq, attracted even more viewers, he said.

Peter Knowles, a controller at BBC Parliament, said the channel drew an average of 1.8 million viewers a month and there had been a continuing rise in viewership over the past five years.

"Members need not be too concerned," Mr Knowles said. "Consider cameras as another piece of furniture in the room. At the beginning there was concern that MPs would play up to the camera, but in practice they carry on as usual."

Another problem, Mr Al Dhaheri said, would be in editing the material to a watchable length, which could mean parts of some discussions being taken out of context.

"Whether the FNC should edit the footage themselves, or the media outlet, is another question," he said.

Rawiyah Al Samahi, another former member, recalled an occasion time when her words had been taken out of context by a reporter.

"One journalist came in to the chamber at the end of a private session and we were still discussing private content," Ms Al Samahi said.

"What the journalist heard he wrote in a story that came out the next day, which gave a completely false picture."

But Andrew Clennell, the state political editor of The Daily Telegraph newspaper in Sydney, who covers the state parliament of New South Wales and has covered the Australian parliament in Canberra- both of which are broadcast live - said that was not possible.

"People cannot be taken out of context from a live stream here any more than they could be taken out of context in a print newspaper report based on a small section of a parliamentary debate," Clennell said.

And Dr Ibtisam Al Ketbi, a professor of political science at the UAE University, said FNC broadcasts were more important now than ever.

"I elected somebody, now I want to see how they will work in the FNC," Dr Al Ketbi said.

Nasser Al Shaikh, a former candidate and one of the panellists at the symposium, said streaming would encourage higher turnout at elections. Only 28 per cent of those eligible to vote on September 24 did so.

"In the late 1970s every FNC session was aired on TV," Mr Al Shaikh said. "Now if you ask a 15-year-old what an FNC is they would have no clue.

"The National Election Committee should work hard with media for a high turnout in 2015 or else we will have 30 per cent showing up again."

Salem Al Ameri, an elected member for Abu Dhabi, agreed: "The media needs to follow the FNC at all times - not just during elections."

Dr Al Ketbi said if the public were able to watch the FNC in action, they would be more likely to vote.

"A person is a political creature," she said. "A big part of politics is in participation."

Televised sessions would not be entirely new to the region. While most GCC countries' chambers allow only limited filming, the Kuwaiti National Assembly allows the cameras in for most of its sessions.

Its debates have sometimes turned violent, with members of the public physically attacking politicians in the chamber.

But Abdullah Sahoudi, the parliamentary reporter at Al Mustaqbal newspaper in Kuwait, said live broadcasts had been positive.

"Of course it is good," Mr Sahoudi said. "We are happy for people to see Kuwaiti democracy from their homes. It has helped people to know a lot more about the parliament."

The first FNC session will be held on Tuesday November 15. Twenty representatives were elected in September and the other 20, to be appointed, have not been named.