Guide to C-Span and Other Parliamentary TV

     |    Friday, der 25. February 2011


Every four years you can exercise your vote, at home or if you’re living abroad and don’t have the host country’s citizenship, through absentee ballot. You vote for a party’s program you identify with, for some political personality, against the government you might be dissatisfied with or simply to choose the lesser of some evils. That would be two in the bi-party United States, where third parties haven’t wielded real influence since the early 20th century and have only acted as kingmakers and breakers: maverick Texas businessman Ross Perot attracted the conservative vote in 1992 and cost Bush Sr. the election; Green Party candidate Ralph Nader was partially blamed in some quarters in 2000 for invading Al Gore’s turf and plunging the country into the post-election chaos and subsequent dismal administration of Bush Jr. (But what did Nader have to do with butterfly ballots and inaccurate voter lists in Florida?) In countries with proportional representation of parties, there are more options to choose from and sometimes you get alliances of very strange bedfellows.

What really happens when you vote is that someone is given the mandate to represent your interests and those of thousands of others living in your electoral district in discussion group with hundreds and hundreds of people (or in a more intimate setting in committee meetings and hearings). So it might be a good idea to at least try and keep closer tabs on what goes on in these powwows.

Many countries broadcast parliamentary sessions on TV. In the United States C-SPAN ( Cable-Satellite Public Affairs Network), a non-profit cable station funded entirely by subscription fees, fulfills this function. C-SPAN also streams over the Internet and has an extensive, free access online video library (check out the seminal 1985 Senate Trade Commission hearing on labelling of objectionable content in rock music, featuring Al Gore, Dee Snider of Twisted sister, Frank Zappa and special guest video appearance by Van Halen).  Senate and Congress meetings, with their cryptic rituals und rules of order, can be hard to watch, so  Congressional blogger Craig Crawford host of D.C. Decoder made this helpful video: :


Other countries also regularly broadcast parliamentary sessions.

* Al Jazeera Mubasher (many Middle Eastern countries)
* BBC Parliament (Great Britain)
* Houses of the Oireachtas Channel (Ireland)
* DD Lok Sabha (India)
* Rada TV (Ukraine)
* CPAC (Canada)
* A-PAC (Australia)
* Asamblea Nacional Televisión (Venezuela)
* Phoenix TV (Germany)

Not all parliamentary sessions are as sensational as the Senate Rock Music Lyric Labeling Hearings or German Defense Minister Karl Theodor zu Guttenberg addressing accusations of plagiarism and fraud when obtaining his doctoral degree  or as historic as debates about military operations, healthcare or social reforms. But Parliament TV offers a way for the constituents to inform themselves about how their votes count…or maybe don’t. And knowledge is power.