Since 2014, I have been writing to Parliament, Mediacorp and Ministry of Communication and Information for the access of parliamentary videos and live streaming of the parliamentary sessions.
So far, attempts to get a clear cut answer from the Parliament about why it does not stream live video for members of public to tune into the debate have been unsuccessful.
The problem faced by independent media to cover the parliamentary session is that no one is allowed to bring in handphones or recording devices to document the sitting, while mainstream media has live streaming of the parliamentary sitting from the comfort of their offices which allow them to report on the story immediately.
Even if one was to rush out from the public gallert to report on what has transpired in the Parliament, there runs a risk of misquoting the Member of Parliament or Minister, which is why most of the time, reports by alternative media are incomplete or later than those by MSM.
In response to a letter that was sent to Parliament to ask for video footage of the parliament (5 Jan 2015), MCI responded:
Thank you for your email. We note your request for access to pre-2014 Parliament video footage. Permission of the Member(s) of Parliament featured need to be sought before we release any footage. To facilitate our review of your request, we would appreciate it if you could provide some additional information in the table below. This is to facilitate our clearance with the Member(s) featured in the specified footage that you requested.
For your information, members of the public interested in the proceedings of Parliament are free to attend any Parliamentary sittings in person. Live telecasts of key Parliamentary business, such as the annual Budget Statement, the President’s Address on the Opening of Parliament and important Ministerial statements, are also broadcast on free-to-air TV. Full records of Parliamentary proceedings, from 1955 onwards, can be accessed via the Hansard on the Parliament website at http://www.parliament.gov.sg/
Mediacorp also responded on 1 Sept 2015 on the same thread:
Received your email and would like to find out which particular parliament are you looking at. And when was the telecast date of it. We will need to verify before quoting.
Also, we will need a formal email approval by parliament ([email protected]) from you in order to proceed if you wish to purchase the content.
Interestingly, when TOC approached Mediacorp in 2014, it replied saying, “For recordings of parliamentary sittings, we only keep the latest speeches. If you wish to obtain the recordings that are not on the website, you’ll have to contact the Clerk of Parliament as the copyright belongs to The Parliament of Singapore.”
At the end, the request to access the videos of the parliamentary hearing was being directed from Parliament to Mediacorp, then to Ministry of Communication and Information and the back to the Parliament.
No one actually had an answer to who the videos belong to and who should be giving the permission.
Also the response by Parliament about seeking permission from the MPs is bewildering, you mean the MP has the permission to refuse his or her videos to be used for reporting? Can opposition members file an objection to mainstream media to use their footage in the first place?
A quick visit to the CNA website will show you that only videos from May onwards are visible on the site. Members of public are unable to go back in its record to search for the speeches made by the MPs.
And why is a private company having sole ownership of public material such as the recordings of the Parliamentary sittings?
After a prolonged radio silence from the Parliament, I again wrote to the Parliament on Feb this year:
…Would like to ask the Singapore Parliament if it can share on the reasons why video live feeds of the parliament proceedings are not provided for the general public and why are recordings not available online on the parliament website…
Parliament wrote back soon after:
“Your queries have been forwarded to the Ministry of Communications and Information (MCI) as they assist us with the broadcasting of Parliamentary proceedings. MCI is considering your suggestion and will respond to you soon. Thank you.”
However, it took ten months and multiple reminders for MCI to get back on the question.
MCI in its reply to TOC on 16 December 2016, wrote:
Recordings of Parliament sessions are available on various platforms. Members of public can view segments of the sessions on Channel NewsAsia as well as Channel 5 and Channel 8 news programmes on days that Parliament sits.
Video clips of the Parliament sessions are also available on Channel NewsAsia’s Parliament website, which is linked to Parliament’s website. Additionally, video clips of the Parliamentary sessions are shared on the Gov.sg YouTube channel for convenient viewing.
Members of the public can also access the Hansard on the Parliament website, which provides the full, official record of each Parliamentary proceeding.
In my response to MCI’s reply on the same day, I wrote:
That was told to me in 2014 and 2015.
What I would like to ask is why the full proceeding of the parliament is not available and the videos that are said to be hosted on CNA’s website is only avaliable for one year, in fact for sone reason, the current CNA site only shows videos from the late half of the year.
Why are only selected videos avaliable on gov.sg youtube instead of the full list?
And what is the technical or financial constraints that prevent the parliament from streaming live video from the parliament sitting?Given that the mainstream media in SIngapore report live based on the mediacorp stream that is feed to the media outlets, why is there no livestream offered to the public?
Lack of live stream allows MSM to set the narrative of the debates
It can be safely assumed that the government wants to allow its propaganda mouthpieces to publish the stories from Parliament filtered to the public.
Too far fetched? Ask yourself on how many times did you first hear of a quote from parliament from the mainstream media about an issue or an important announcement instead of hearing it and seeing it for yourself? More than often, MSM truncates the message and give a spin before publishing on their platforms. The live feed that MSM also gives it an unfair advantage on Parliament coverage.
At times, Ministers abuse this unfair arrangement by blatantly confusing the public with fallacious claims. Minister of Law and Home Affairs, K Shanmugam does this often in the debates with the oppositions. He said during the
He said during the Parliamentary debate on the Contempt of Court bill in August this year, “If anyone has any objection to me putting out in writing what is the current law, then tell me. I have not heard a single argument so far, I have not heard a single argument as to why we should not crystallize the law.”.
However, in reality, MPs from the Workers’ Party had stood up in force arguing about why the law should not be passed. And in fact, the Minister couldn’t answer the question on the apparent double standard of how the new law will be applied upon the government but instead detracts the point by stating that it would be safe to assume that the Attorney-General would step in if he feels that there has been a violation.
Mr K Shanmugam knows that the media will just screen his segment of the debate, making it unclear to many members of public on the sequence of the debate and would assume on good faith that there has been indeed no argument put forth by the opposition.
Another example from that same debate is when Mr Low Thia Khiang, MP for Aljunied GRC stood up to ask for division.
If one were to retrieve the actual video recording of the event, one would see that Mdm Halimah Yacob had already said, “The Ayes have it, the Ayes have it” while Mr Low raised his hands up in the air and walked over to the podium to make his intention to call for a division clear.
At this point of time, Prime Minister Lee Hsien Loong could be heard saying, “This is out of order”, referring to Mr Low’s call for division.
What is also missing from Hansard is that a vote by Mr Yaccob Ibrahim was shown on the voting screen. Mr Yaccob was not present at the Parliament that day and Mr Teo Chee Hean was sitting on his seat when the voting took place.
If one were to be present at the actual hearing such as the writer of this article, one could see how such details could make a huge difference to the perspective of how the debate is being conducted.
All in all, these examples just show how a lack of live stream obstructs the public’s on the conduct of the Parliament and how the hansard is not dependable for actual recollection of events.
No reasons for Singapore Parliament not to have live streaming
Despite the ambitious plans by Singapore to transit the city-state into a world class IT country, our Parliament still refuses to stream its sessions live to public. Only on some occasions such as the announcement of the annual Budget and where the parliament congratulated Joseph Schooling on his historic win for Singapore at the Olympics.
On the other hand, democratic countries such as Taiwan, Japan, United States, Canada, South Korea and etc, all have live streaming of their parliamentary hearing and have the sessions recorded.
Is our Parliament short of money to provide live streaming on its website then? Well, a quick look at its annual budget, clearly shows that it is not out of money nor resources to do so.
Pretty as a symbol of how money are used on the wrong things in Singapore, the rubbish center which cost $880,000 is situated just tens of metres away from the Parliament.
Open call to the Singapore Parliament
Therefore, at this point, The Online Citizen is offering to provide live streaming service of the parliament session to the public if only the Parliament was to give permission to do so. It will still be ok for someone else to be given the honour of doing so, if it meant allowing real time view of what goes on in the parliament.
If the Parliament declines offers to provide livestreaming, it will only mean that there is probably an agenda behind its reluctance to allow free access of the parliament debates to the general public.