Parliamentary reporting should not be limited to straight news writing in this age and time of freedom of the press, freedom of expression and the right of the people to have access to information. The media is the fourth (4th) estate of the realm and if it has to do effectively by policing the other estates, then parliamentary reporting should not be limited to straight news writing. It has to go beyond just reporting straight news on parliament. Journalism, which is the activity of gathering information, packaging, processing and turning it into news, goes beyond straight news writing. It sometimes involves investigations and coming out with findings in a feature form. Journalism which includes reporting is an institution that has been established by the society to play a specific role. As much as the society the society needs news or information, society also expects the media or journalists to go beyond mere reporting of the facts and give them something more if they (the media) have to perform its watch dog function. Parliamentary reporting should go beyond straight news reporting but one may ask how are they going to do that? This paper spells it out in the subsequent pages.
According to the Cambridge International Dictionary of English, news is “information or reports about recent events…”. News is also a material that people must have because it is important. It is any new information that interests and affects people. News can also be seen as something that has just occurred or about to happen as well as something that the public has the right to know, need to know and an interest to know. News is very important to the society and society needs news to survive. Straight news therefore “is a plain account of news facts written in standard style, and structure (www.jsprinting.com/glossary...). It is also seen as “a straight forward account of factual news with little or no comment or analysis (www.thenewsmanual.net/Resources/glossary.html). Straight news is news that consists of facts given straight without embellishment. Its main aim is to inform. It uses the summary lead and is written using the inverted pyramid structure. A straight news story is a timely report on an event, usually written within 24hours after the event has taken place. It deals with the facts alone and the writer does not have to add his or her opinion. One just has to write what happened without adding what he or she thinks but feature writing gives that flexibility.
Oxford English Dictionary simply sees parliament as “an assembly that makes a country’s law. Parliament is a group of elected politicians or other people who make the laws for their country. It is a legislative body. It is an assembly of representatives, usually of an entire nation, that makes laws”. (www.answers.com/topic/parliament.1xzz2Ab6Vidhc). Parliament is a legislature whose power and function are similar to those dictated by the Westminster system of the United Kingdom. More generally, parliament may simply refer to a democratic government’s legislature. The term came from the French parlement, the action of parler(to speak); a parliament is a discussion. The term came to mean a meeting at which such a discussion took place. It acquired its modern meaning as it came to be used for the body of people (in an institutional sense) who would meet to discuss matters of state. Generally, a parliament has three (3) functions: representation, legislation and parliamentary control (that is hearings, inquiries). Reporting, on the other hand is giving a description of (something) or information about it to someone. Reporting is also giving a vivid account of an event or happenings. A report is a textual work (usually of writing, speech, television, or film) made with a specific intention of relaying information or recounting certain events in a wider presentable form. According to Derrick Schneider, ‘Reporting is just a genre of writing, alongside essays and stories, and bloggers most certainly fall into that genre.’ Parliamentary reporting should go beyond just straight forward news writing in this time of right to information because there is a lot that can be got from parliament than just a straight news. Parliament, the law making body of liberal democracies is about debate and arguments in which political parties, usually of opposing views, seek points of convergence or attempt to convince others about the soundness and benefits to be derived from their motion for the general good. The mass media play a very important role in parliamentary life as they are a factor and sometimes key determinants in the formation of opinion and matters of public interest.
The 1992 Constitution of the Republic of Ghana spells out freedom of the press and of expression. This has given power to the media to report on all aspects of social and political life including parliament. This freedom of the media helps the media in exposing weaknesses and lapses of the democratic system, creating opportunities for correction. There by performing their watch dog role as the police of the society. According to the World Bank Institute, freedom of the press should not be regarded simply as the freedom of journalists, editors or proprietors alone to report and comment but should be regarded as the embodiment of the public’s right to know and to participate in the free flow of information. This is to say that the public has the right to know about the happenings in parliament because they (the public) selected the parliamentarians by voting for them to go to parliament and go to make laws and policies for them. These laws and public policies will affect the people so they have to know what is going on in parliament and it is the media that can keep the people informed. From the idea that, there are debates in parliament based on the needs and grievances of the people that are made known by the media and that need of media to tell the people what goes on in parliament tells us that, they (parliament and media) need each other. This reciprocity in the functions of the two institutions only explains to what degree the relationship between parliament and media ought to be one of understanding, mutual respect and tolerance. Ideally, this is what should happen but in practice, though a serious business of state, sometimes turn up great moments of drama for one reason or another.
Parliamentary reporting is the most boring aspect of reporting. It is about the same thing that goes on there. The parliamentary reporter more often than not is always reporting on parliamentary proceeding; the debates and counter debates that go on there; the laws they come out with, to mention a just few. What is more frustrating and boring are the restrictions as to what you can report and what you can not report. For example, you can report on the House as a whole but not on select committees. But I think parliamentary reporting should go beyond just the straight news if really, the media is the fourth estate of the realm and it has to let the public have information. Information to the public on parliament should not be limited. On on the contrary, doing Parliamentary reporting, there are a lot of restrictions as to what not to do. For example, criticising Parliament is not done or you would have committed contempt of Parliament. In doing the watch man’s job, being critical of the legislature is part of the media’s responsibility while maintaining a healthy relationship with parliament and this cannot be done in straight news which will only give you the room to report on the facts or proceedings in Parliament. For instance, if Parliament does something which goes contrary to what they stand for, I think the reporter should be in a position to criticize it by checking it to let it know that what it is doing is not good. This can be done beyond straight news writing.
Parliamentary reporting should not be limited to straight news writing other than that, the media would not be able to do its work effectively. The public has the right to know about parliament, what goes on there, and how the people they (the public) elected into parliament to go make laws are behaving and faring. If Parliament passes a law and it is supposed to cover all of us but some members are not abiding by it, I think the media must be able to report on it. This definitely can not come in a form of straight news.
According to a report, Parliament and the Media: Securing an Effective Relationship, the media or journalists has to 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 form. If this is to be realized, then parliamentary reporting will have to go beyond straight news writing. Straight news writing is the same way of writing and presenting the facts or reporting on the facts but if coverage should be made imaginative and attractive then we are definitely looking beyond that. Straight news writing can be boring since it is always the same way of writing to present the facts all the time and does not give room to opinions. This is another reason why I will say that Parliamentary reporting should not be limited to straight news writing.
Some may argue that because Parliament deals with Parliamentarians and their arguments and counter arguments, one should avoid the inclusion of personal views and opinions in the story as they can interfere with the audience’s interpretation and understanding of a debate, particularly one that a political controversy. But there is more that a reporter can get to the public than just reporting on the proceedings. For instances if there was a debate and the minority does not agree with the majority, the reporter can go beyond just straight news reporting and do research and investigations to find out why one group does not agree. The answers that you gather can be used to write more stories to inform the public than just reporting on the Parliamentary proceedings.
Members of Parliament are elected to the house by the public. They are sent there to make laws and bring decisions that will help govern the people in the society. If for instance, a member is abusing his or her office as a Member of Parliament, the media should be in the position to let the people know that the one you elected into office is not behaving well in office. The reporter can conduct investigations and get evidence to support his story and then he will come out with the story and the evidence. This exercise can not be done through mere straight news reporting. One has to go beyond the straight news reporting of Parliamentary proceedings and write features which can allow the reporter that flexibility of expressing his opinion by may be stating what a Member of Parliament should do and also state the way he or she is behaving now. This can even give the public the opportunity to look at the situation and be informed on whether to keep him or her there or to change that person in the next voting.
The media being the fourth estate of the realm should have the power of crticising to check on the society which also includes politics and Parliament. Parliament has the power to impose order within the House through such means as contempt of Parliament. Due to this, the media has to abide by all the rules of the House and know the relevant terminologies and right titles of Members. However, an arbitrary use of this power of Parliament could have serious consequences on Parliamentary reporting, especially when legislators use it to prevent criticism or bad press from reporters and their media houses. If care is not taken some the Members will hide behind this and do things that they are not expected to do due to their office. The media should be allowed to criticize the bad or negative things that the Members will do to drag the name of the House into disrepute. If this can be done and done so well by the media, the parliamentary reporting should be allowed to go beyond straight news writing. This is because straight news writing will not give you that luxury to go behind the news and fish for more to be given to the public.
The public has the right to information and they also have the right to know what is going on. The media is the institution that can let the public know and even let the Parliamentarians know what the public is saying so it can help them do their debate. They should be given the opportunity to go beyond straight news reporting on proceedings but keeping in mid the restrictions that is there. The reporter should be able to go beyond straight news writing and do research and investigations to write further. Due to these and many other more reasons, I still say that Parliamentary reporting should not be limited to straight news reporting.
Student Journalist studying MA in Journalism
At The Ghana Institute of Journalism
On air person at Radio XYZ, 93.1fm