Taiwan is a democratic nation. The majority of public officials are elected. However, does the holding of elections represent actual democracy? Not necessarily. In Taiwan, once people have cast their votes, that is the end of their control over proceedings. Once they are elected, politicians just take off like animals released into the wild, only to be reined in again when the next election comes around. Is this full democracy? Well, halfway there; the nation still has some way to go.
National Dong Hwa University students were thrown out of a meeting of the Hualien County Council on May 6 after they were found to be making video recordings. This was met by protests from the students, and the issue of the right to record and broadcast council meetings is attracting more and more attention.
Penghu Cable is broadcasting Penghu County Council question-and-answer sessions, but requests by other online media to record the council’s meetings have been met with objections by councilors.
The reason the council gave for prohibiting broadcasts is based on regulations on audio and video recording — that, to the exclusion of all other laws and regulations, nobody can record or film inside a council chamber without first having secured the council speaker’s permission.
This regulation was originally created because of concerns that edited recordings could be used against councilors. However, in this day and age, where recording devices are ubiquitous and a wide variety of content is immediately uploaded onto social media, such rules are clearly outdated.
The debate over legislative chamber broadcasts originated in the Legislative Yuan. For some time, the minutes of legislative sessions have been recorded and cameras have been allowed into the legislative chamber, but these resources were not made available to the public, unless individuals specifically applied for access.
The Legislative Yuan’s concession cannot enable effective democratic oversight, if evidence of legislators carrying out their duties is not made publicly accessible — especially not if left to legislators to cherry-pick the recordings and provide only the footage that casts them in a good light.
The Legislative Yuan has continued on the path to transparency, allowing live broadcasts of legislative chamber and legislative committee meetings. Now, it is starting to allow live online broadcasts. The New Power Party is also demanding that cross-party negotiations be opened up to introduce more transparency into the process and put an end to talks behind closed doors. Oversight is only possible when the facts are established. With democratic progress and improvements in broadcasting technology, the government can at the very least give the public the right to access this information.
If it is good enough for the Legislative Yuan, why can a local government council not do it? This is the democratic trickle-down effect: All of the reasons and regulations the council provided for refusing more transparency have already been debated in the legislature, adopted and transformed into a force for furthering Taiwan’s democracy. Now it is the turn of local government councils. They need to keep up with the pace of democratic change.
In the absence of council chamber broadcasts, voters have no idea whether the people they voted for are turning up for work, or what they say when issues are debated. When laws and policies that have direct implications for the interests of a constituency are reviewed and the electorate discover the people they voted for are not working hard enough for them, public opinion will spur these elected representatives on. This is an important part of oversight, even more, perhaps, than the right to make one’s voice heard on election day. Only when legislative chambers at all levels of government are opened up to live broadcasts can Taiwan’s democracy be called mature.
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