Govt agrees in-principle to live stream Parliament proceedings, but debate should be kept sober: Iswaran

It is on the members to maintain the decorum of the House.

Sulaiman Daud | September 04, 2020, 04:05 PM

Minister for Communications and Information S Iswaran said the government agrees in-principle to the live streaming of parliamentary proceedings to deepen engagement with Singaporeans, although it still has reservations about possible drawbacks.

In a speech in Parliament on Sept. 4, during the debate of the motion of thanks to the President's Address, Iswaran said that his ministry will study the technical and implementation details of live streaming Parliament.

He added:

"Our aim, as always, will be to achieve transparency, accountability, and accessibility, while preserving the integrity and dignity of parliamentary proceedings."

Iswaran mentioned that the ministry has paid "close attention" to calls to widen access to parliamentary proceedings, saying that both Pritam Singh of the Workers' Party and Speaker Tan Chuan-Jin supported this.

But he mentioned access was already provided as the public could attend the sitting by visiting the gallery, and clips arranged by topic and speaker are uploaded online, and a full transcript is recorded in the Hansard.

Iswaran continued:

"We have been reluctant to go further, for both practical and policy reasons. Demand for such live broadcasts, even of major speeches, is generally low. Only 10 per cent of that are free to air television news, for example, and Parliament is a forum for serious debate on national issues. The debate in Parliament should be vigorous, but the tone should be sober."

Iswaran said an "element of cut-and-thrust" is unavoidable, because Members of Parliament want to demonstrate that their constituents' concerns are being raised in the House.

However, he said it is equally important that MPs do not simply "play to the gallery", and that live broadcasts risk compromising this.

Pritam: Those who play to the gallery will be found out

Rising to speak, Leader of the Opposition Singh said his colleagues have reflected on the government's reservations, but they believe that if Parliament is turned into "theatre", the public will be fairly quick to conclude who is there to put on theatrics and who is there to be serious about the discussions.

In response, Iswaran said the experience of other countries with live streamed Parliament does not give a lot of "reason to be optimistic" with regards to the tone of the debate.

He said while it does not necessarily mean that the live stream is the reason for the element of theatre, it is on the members to maintain decorum while holding vigorous debates.

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Top image from Iswaran's Facebook page.