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Live Parliament sessions don’t add to transparency, risk turning sittings into ‘form of theatre’: Grace Fu’s press secretary

Live Parliament sessions don’t add to transparency, risk turning sittings into ‘form of theatre’: Grace Fu’s press secretary

Source: TODAY
Article Date: 16 May 2020
Author: Kenneth Cheng

Leader of the House Grace Fu rejected renewed calls from two Members of Parliament to stream parliamentary sessions live.

Live broadcasts of Parliament risk turning the House into a “form of theatre” and do not add to transparency, the spokesperson for Leader of the House Grace Fu said on Friday (May 15).

Writing in response to a letter from a TODAY reader, Dr Michele Khoo, Ms Fu’s press secretary, reiterated that the Government had no plans to broadcast sittings live. Parliament, she said, is a forum for serious debate on national issues.

“An element of public performance is unavoidable because Singaporeans want to see their concerns expressed, and hear their questions asked and answered in Parliament,” Dr Khoo said.

“The debate in Parliament should be vigorous, but the tone should be sober. Members have to come to grips with the issues and their complexities, and avoid playing to the gallery and striking poses for histrionic effect.”

This, Dr Khoo said, has been the tone of proceedings in Singapore’s Parliament, but was not always how other parliaments conduct their business.

In Parliament on May 5, Mr Leon Perera, a Non-Constituency Member of Parliament (MP) from the Workers’ Party (WP), and Nominated MP Anthea Ong had called for a live stream of parliamentary sessions.

Mr Perera argued that watching debates, political speeches, sports and other events live was not the same as viewing delayed clips. 

“The sense of engagement that comes from watching something live and being the first to know is different from watching a delayed clip,” he said. “It is different from first hearing about something through media reports before you even see the clip.”

Referring to Mr Perera's example of live sports, Dr Khoo said that sports benefited from live broadcasts, with audiences cheering on their favourites, and enjoying the thrills and spills of the moment. Parliament, however, will not reap the same gains, she said.

“Beyond the spectacle of the moment, there is much hard work ahead after the debate is done. Parliament is a forum for serious debate on legislation, government policies and issues of the day that matter to our citizens, and must remain so.

“We therefore have no plans to broadcast Parliament sittings live and risk changing the tone of proceedings in Parliament.”

Dr Khoo was responding to a letter from Mr Chirag Agarwal published in TODAY’s Voices section on Monday.

Mr Agarwal had argued that watching major political developments live holds democratic allure, and this extends to policies and bills proposed, debated and scrutinised in Parliament, which affect all Singaporeans.

On May 5, Ms Fu, who is also Minister for Culture, Community and Youth, had rejected the calls from Mr Perera and Ms Ong to broadcast parliamentary sessions live. Such requests have been made periodically over the years.

Ms Fu said then that channels were available for the public, including students and overseas Singaporeans, to go through full parliamentary proceedings online.

They can view footage of speeches as well as questions and answers from each session on regional news outlet CNA’s Parliament microsite.

Ms Fu said that parliamentary highlights are uploaded to the microsite within three hours, and the public also has access to the full written record of parliamentary proceedings via the official reports on parliamentary debates, known as Hansard.

In 2017, Mr Chee Hong Tat, then Senior Minister of State for Communications and Information, said in response to Mr Perera that there was low demand for a live feed of parliamentary proceedings.

Repeating his comments to WP MP Pritam Singh earlier that year, Mr Chee, who is now in the Trade and Industry as well as Education ministries, said that viewers who tuned in live to a major parliamentary speech such as the national Budget made up about 10 per cent of those who watched free-to-air television news in the same evening.

Alluding to these comments, Mr Agarwal wrote in his letter that in the present digital age, when the cost of setting up a live stream is not an issue, the argument of “low demand” was unconvincing.

“Few people today walk into Parliament or an open court to observe proceedings, or go to the Speakers’ Corner at Hong Lim Park to make their feelings known without approval from the authorities,” he wrote.

“But we view these as Singaporeans’ fundamental rights. We should use technology to give these rights to anyone unable to travel to such locations.”

Repeating the Government’s position on Friday, Dr Khoo, Ms Fu’s press secretary, said that demand for such broadcasts was low. Viewership of major speeches such as the national Budget that are broadcast live remains only a tenth of that of free-to-air TV news, she said.

“More important, the present arrangements to make the contents of Parliament sittings available online but with a short delay already give us the full benefits of transparency, accountability and accessibility,” Dr Khoo said.

Copyright 2020 MediaCorp Pte Ltd | All Rights Reserved

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