Advise, don’t legislate

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Advise, don’t legislate

The ruling and opposition parties decided to form a commission under the National Assembly Committee on Culture, Sports, Tourism, Broadcasting and Communications to review the media reform bills. The commission will be composed of outsiders from academia and civic groups. The ruling and opposition parties will recommend equal numbers of commission members. It will work for 100 days. However, we want to point out that such a group is only a quick fix that is likely to expand discrepancies rather than narrow them. Forming such a group also undermines the principle that bills should be reviewed by lawmakers.

A bill will normally go through a hearing before it is presented to a standing committee and a legislation review subcommittee. Civic groups, experts and political parties have had more than 10 hearings to discuss the bills in January and February. They have had enough discussions. Thus another discussion at a commission is unnecessary.

The fact that the ruling and opposition parties will have an equal number of representatives on the commission is also a problem. Voters gave an absolute majority to the ruling Grand National Party in the general elections in April 2008. The number of seats that political parties have in the Assembly is in proportion to their representation on standing committees. But now the parties decided to form the commission with equal numbers of representatives for the ruling and opposition sides. The validity of the commission is already in question. Equal representation is likely to exacerbate confrontations within the commission.

The parties should run the commission wisely, recognizing at the outset that there are limits to the commission’s authority. It is only an advisory body; its existence has no legal mandate. Its role should be restricted to advisory activities. Political parties should not make political or ideological statements through the body. However, the Democratic Party already seems to want to use the commission to modify the media reform bills. The DP intends to block not only large companies but also newspapers from owning stakes in television networks.

The purpose of the bills is to deregulate and develop the media industry; the bills will be an empty shell if the core reforms are not made. A quick fix such as the commission should not interfere with legislative activities nor should it be used again. If commissions are created outside the legislature for every controversial bill, what is the point of having the National Assembly?

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