On Monday, Minister of State for Ministry of Communication and Information, Chee Hong Tat stating that there is risk of MPs playing to the gallery in the presence of live cameras, which would affect the work of Parliament, in response to the question posed by Workers’ Party Member of Parliament, Mr Pritam Singh on live streaming of the Parliamentary sitting.
Personally, I think the answer given by the MOS is pretty ridiculous, along with the other points raised during his reply.
This post seeks to rebut his reply to Mr Singh bit by bit as it is filled with fallacies and inaccuracies.
The following text in quotes are part of Mr Chee’s speech in Parliament.
Took a long time for videos to be available
“Over the years, MCI has worked with Mediacorp to enhance the coverage of Parliamentary proceedings. Today, key Parliament sessions such as the Budget Statement and the opening of Parliament are broadcast live on both TV and online.”
“Footage of all Parliament speeches and Questions and Answer sessions are already available online, on ChannelNewsAsia’s Parliament microsite.”
While Mr Chee is correct to have said that footage of all questions and answer sessions are available on CNA’s microsite. However, it took a long period of time for the videos to be available. If one were to look back in time, videos are hardly accessible in pre-2011. The few that one can find on YouTube are those footages that were broadcasted by the media and recorded by members of public.
There are Q&A videos also available on the gov.sg YouTube channel but there is only a selected few.
Videos are sorted purely by date
Parliamentary highlights are loaded onto this microsite within three hours of broadcast. Videos of all speeches and footage from Question Time are uploaded by the following morning.
If you go to the site, you will see that the videos are sorted by date and name of the MP. The video clips are easily accessible by the public, and are organised for convenient viewing. The online archival period for these videos has also been lengthened since 2013, from one month to six months.
If one were to refer to the microsite, there is no sorting of videos based on name of MP. If Mr Chee is referring to the name of the MP being listed in the heading of the video, that is referred as naming of videos.
Public to buy from Mediacorp after archive period
The videos are archived only for six months after which, members of public who wish to obtain the video from Mediacorp has to pay Mediacorp for the video footage.
Till date, the Parliament has not replied TOC on why Mediacorp is being given the right to charge for access to the video footage. Also Mediacorp states that they have to seek permission from the MP in the footage for the video to be released. How does that make sense?
Hansard does not record everything
In addition, the public has access to the full written record of Parliamentary proceedings via the online Hansard. Singaporeans who are interested in watching the proceedings can also attend any Parliamentary sitting in person, watch the news on TV that evening, or view the complete set of video clips from the CNA microsite using their computers and mobile devices the next morning.
The Hansard is a written record of the Parliamentary proceedings, but it does not record everything that transpires in the parliament.
It does not tell you the mood of the Parliament, it does not tell you what tone was used to convey the message. It does not tell you the attendance of the Parliament at the time when the speech is made.
Most importantly, the Hansard leaves out details that make a difference.
During the debate on the Contempt of Court bill, Mr Low Thia Khiang, MP for Aljunied GRC stood up to ask for division within the Parliament.
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” despite Mr Low having raised his hands up in the air and walked over to the podium to make his intention to call for a division clear.
The Speaker was clearly displeased with Mr Low’s request and had wanted to just get it over with. It was only with Mr Low’s insistence that the division was finally called.
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.
All these are not documented by Hansard.
Live broadcast is a form of check and balance and public education
Based on data collected, the viewership of live broadcasts remains low. Even for a major speech like the Budget, the number of people who watched it live is less than 10% of those who watched the parliamentary highlights on the news that evening. And less than 1% of all viewers watched the Budget live using web-streaming.
Mr Chee is wrong to have used the low viewership as a form of justification. Having the Parliament broadcast live is a form of check and balance upon the Parliament, especially on how Mainstream media covers the Parliament proceeding. At the present moment, the public relies on tweets and updates from MSM on what has been said in parliament, how is the public to know on what context was the comment made and in reference to what?
An example of public education is the passing of bills. Does the public know that bills are passed within half an hour after a bill is read the second time. One would assume that a bill will take a while after it is read before being passed as law. But in reality, a bill is passed as something that is routine since it is assumed that opposition cannot stop its passage. This process will be captured by the live broadcast. Mr Chee would note that there is no such videos being published on either the CNA’s microsite nor the gov.sg youtube.
Can the minister state examples?
The experiences in other countries show that there are pros and cons to having live broadcasts of Parliament proceedings. Observers have noted that one downside is the risk of MPs playing to the gallery in the presence of live cameras, which would affect the work of Parliament.
Mr Chee said that there are pros and cons in having live broadcasts in other countries. Which are the countries and what have been the pros and cons? Is it right for the Minister to just give a vague example on the matter?
And does it matter if the videos are live or delayed broadcasted? Wouldn’t MPs as politician be playing to the gallery nevertheless?
Ministers have access to high-quality videos while MPs settle for sub-quality
Mr Singh in his follow up question, then asked Mr Chee if the delayed parliamentary broadcast for Q&A and MP speeches will be reproduced in full and not edited when uploaded after parliament has finished and whether the ministry should consider live parliamentary broadcast, maybe a short pilot of three to six months to understand the misgivings the ministry may have.
To his first question, the answer is yes. There is no edit done to the video clips of speeches except for those places where there are some pauses or when certain issues are sort of very local issues but the speeches, and I think Mr Pritam Singh would probably know this, actually many of us would go to the site and use those videos for social media. So I think it is something for everyone to see.
As I said in my speech, it is up there for six months, archival period.
The second question, I thank Mr Singh for acknowledging that there are pros and cons to live broadcast. Think we do recongnise the up sides as well, it is not that this is a straight forward thing but we looked at what we have now and our sense is that it is meeting the needs of what Mr Singh has spoke about in his speech
As mentioned before, there is no video clips of Q&A in CNA’s microsite and selected few Q&A in the youtube channel.
It is also interesting that Mr Chee say that many of the MPs go to the site to use the videos for social media. For the Prime Minister and other Ministers, the videos of their speeches are available in high quality at the Gov.sg YouTube channel while MPs such as those from the opposition, have to go and “download” the video to be posted on their social media platform. There is no easy way of getting the video from CNA’s microsite as compared to that from Youtube, and the quality of the video is significantly lower.
Meeting the needs
Mr Singh in his speech, said that providing a live and open parliamentary platform would serve as a key inoculant against fake news. Fake news can also be in the form of misrepresenting the stance or position of an individual/politician.
There are times where videos show a PAP politician or Minister to have the final say on a matter in video, but in reality, that is not the case.
I have been at the Parliamentary sittings quite a number of times and can attest to instances where the opposition or NMPs are stopped from following up a statement from a minister. There are also instances in the form of video presentation by the Mainstream Media, that gives an impression that a Minister “dropped the mic” on the opposition when he had not answered any of the oppositions’ questions.
Edit: The article has been corrected to reflect that Q&A are available on the CNA microsite and apologies for any misunderstanding on that part.