Live streaming of Parliament proceedings has just made a comeback. And almost immediately, Singaporeans learnt how members of the legislature go about their duty of debating issues affecting people’s lives. And there could not have been a better issue than TraceTogether, the contact-tracing digital system being rolled out to cope with the spread of Covid-19. We discovered that data captured by the system could be used to help in criminal investigations, despite an assurance at no less than Cabinet level that it was to be used only for Covid-19 contact tracing. Suddenly, privacy of personal data was at stake and anti-Covid 19 efforts could be undermined by an erosion of trust in the government because of the earlier non-disclosure.
Right in front of us – live – we saw how the truth was prised out after some probing questions. It could well be that there was intention to come clean earlier at the recent sitting – in case this is uncovered later and thus causes far greater damage to the government’s credibility in the long run.
Whether PAP MP Christopher de Souza asked his question in all sincerity as a concerned MP or he was simply trying to take the fire out of any Opposition MP with a similar probing question, it may not be fair to speculate. He did everyone a favour anyway. So good for him. Members of the public would make up their own mind. Indeed, there was not a small number of points and lessons to be derived out of the live coverage of Parliament.
Live streaming has made a welcome return. Let it be a permanent part of our political landscape, notwithstanding past feedback about poor viewership. It should be institutionalised, the way that public funding is behind MediaCorp’s existence. If MediaCorp helps to disseminate official information, then live streaming’s role is even more vital: it is the immediate bridge between the community and their representatives in Parliament. You get to monitor how your MP performs. Every MP is essentially a leader and you will witness how your leader performs vis-à-vis others. Can he or she effectively communicate your concerns in Parliament? Is he or she just a Yes person? Does he or she vote on crucial Parliamentary motions according to principle or conscience or simply as an unthinking cog of a party machine?
Yes, we can track all this now with live streaming because the Internet enables us to do this.
Live streaming is timely.
It is part of a new media landscape dominated by live webinars, YouTube, Zoom and Skype and TikTok. Politicians have to keep up with the trend of immediacy which demands their being on their toes in public dialogue engagement.
It may be cruel for those who are not natural public speakers. But public speaking is integral. The Oxford dictionary defines politics as “the activities associated with the governance of a country or area, especially the debate between parties having power”. If you are not a natural public speaker, you have to learn to be. Live streaming will quicken the learning pace. And if after the experience, you feel you are not up to it, then it is better for you to contribute to society in other ways. No shame. Not everyone can think well on his or her feet or is an excellent communicator. Ultimately, always remember, a political leader represents a certain community and must be someone who has what it takes to at least not make a fool of himself or herself in public – or be the butt of public jokes. That does not mean you have to be a fiery orator or play to the gallery, it just means you have to think clearly and express yourself fast and succinctly. As the dominance of the ruling People’s Action Party wanes, how everyone – PAP or Opposition MP – performs in Parliament will help Singaporeans decide who are worthy of moving the country forward.
It will put real-time pressure on MPs to take their Parliamentary duties more seriously. They will have to do proper research before filing their questions, learn quickly how to navigate House protocols and be on their toes always. The camera can be cruel but it can also be forgiving. Arrogance, poor choice of words or an elitist attitude will be captured for eternity on YouTube.
I totally welcome the return of the live streaming of Parliament. It got off to a good start with the TraceTogether exposure.
Unlike the early years when there were only a handful of Opposition MPs to take on the likes of Lee Kuan Yew, the situation today is different. The seeds of today’s larger Opposition presence were planted by JB Jeyaretnam, Chiam See Tong and Low Thia Khiang to whom we owe a big debt. To a large extent too, Dr Tan Cheng Bock played his part when he stood for the Presidential Election in 2011. He showed everyone that there were large numbers of Singaporeans who wanted a handbrake on government power at the highest level.
Today’s new breed of Opposition MPs – and in greater and growing numbers – will carry the torch of alternative voices in Parliament right in full view of Singaporeans.
After live streaming, what about live radio broadcast? Why not? They already have that in, for example, Australia.
Tan Bah Bah, consulting editor of TheIndependent.Sg, is a former senior leader with The Straits Times. He was also managing editor of a local magazine publishing company.
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