Singapore—On September 4, Communications and Information Minister S Iswaran said that the Government agrees “in principle to livestream parliamentary debates. How this will be implemented will be studied by the Ministry of Communications and Information (MCI).
In Parliament, the Minister announced, “Our aim, as always, will be to achieve transparency, accountability, and accessibility while preserving the integrity and dignity of parliamentary proceedings.”
Mr Iswaran, however, warned his fellow Members of Parliament against “playing to the gallery” in order to curry favour with the public, many of whom are likely to watch live debates.
Channel NewsAsia (CNA) quotes the Minister as saying, “An element of cut-and-thrust is unavoidable, because members want to show Singaporeans that their concerns are expressed, and questions asked and answered in Parliament.
However, members must come to grips with the issues and their complexities and not play to the gallery. Live broadcasts risk compromising this. We still hold these reservations.”
He added, “It depends on all of us as parliamentarians to maintain the decorum, the dignity and the integrity of our proceedings through vigorous debate, based on facts and focused on the long-term interests of Singaporeans.”
The livestreaming of parliamentary proceedings was last brought up in Parliament in May, during a debate to amend the Constitution to find ways for Parliament to meet in more than one location, should the need arise in situations such as that of the coronavirus pandemic.
According to Grace Fu, former Leader of House, debates in Parliament are uploaded to online outlets in a “timely, comprehensive and easily accessible manner.” She said on May 5 that the proceedings may be viewed by the public, including students and overseas Singaporeans.
The Communications and Information Minister underlined on September 4 that Parliament pays an important role in society as it expresses the public’s hopes as well as concerns, and to be a “voice of hope” amid crises.
He added, “If we do this, then I think we would have made a signal contribution to our nation-building efforts, with a deep engagement of our citizens.”
Therefore, the call for Parliamentary proceedings to be live-streamed is taken very seriously.
But as for now, ”Anyone can watch these proceedings in person from the Strangers’ Gallery. Every speech and exchange in Parliament is recorded and made available online. Clips, categorised by topic and speaker, are uploaded within hours of each sitting.
The Hansard provides a full written record of parliamentary proceedings and is available online. These already give us the full benefits of transparency, accountability and accessibility. We have been reluctant to go further for both practical and policy reasons,” said Mr Iswaran.
As the country is facing an unprecedented crisis, Singapore’s Parliament is also facing new ground, with more members of the opposition Workers’ Party (WP) than ever before winning in the General Election last July, as well as two Non-Constituency Members of Parliament from the Progress Singapore Party, taking seats as well.
CNA quotes WP chief and Leader of the Opposition Pritam Singh as saying, concerning MPs playing to the gallery, “It is our view that the element of theatre will be exposed also. And the public will conclude fairly quickly, if not immediately … who is here to turn Parliament into a theatre and who is here to be serious about Parliament as a forum where serious matters are discussed.” —/TISG