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The Singapore Parliament in session / photo istana.gov.sg

Signature drive for a public petition for the government to provide full and live telecast of Parliament

We are calling for Singaporeans and Permanent Residents of Singapore to sign the attached Public Petition to urge our government to telecast live and in full all proceedings in Parliament. This letter provides the reasons why such a telecast via television and over the internet is important. It also includes instructions on how to sign the petition according to the rules laid down by Parliament.

Why is Parliament Important to Singaporeans?

The Legislature of Singapore, also known as our Parliament, is the elected branch of government which helps make the laws for Singapore’s electorate, that is, us voters. The Executive branch, that is the cabinet of ministers, helps enforce these laws, while the Judicial branch, that is the Supreme and Subordinate Courts, helps interpret these laws whenever there is a conflict of opinions. This separation of powers is meant to prevent the concentration of power over the electorate, checking that no body of people may decide on the laws they wish to enforce, no ministerial leader can decide if his or her choices were according to the laws of the people, and no judge may have, give, or gain any other powers in government.

This system of government, known as the Westminster system, was brought into Singapore when the city became a British crown colony. By 1958, thanks to the elected Legislative Assembly of 1955, Singapore’s laws allowed its residents to elect their own Parliament representatives for the objective of full self-governance. Finally in December 1965, 4 months after Separation, the legislative powers of Malaysia were conceded back to the President and his people of Singapore so we could once again decide on the laws to protect our multi-ethnic and multi-religious society. Symbolically and functionally, the Parliament represents our right and ability to govern ourselves as a sovereign state. Parliamentary proceedings are of national importance. It is in Parliament that major issues are discussed and debated, and bills passed into law. It is also the venue in which our elected officials carry out their duties as Members of Parliament.

The laws of the land that are made in Parliament will not only affect make an impact on our daily lives, but also chart the future direction of the country. It is of utmost importance that Singaporeans have access to parliamentary proceedings, so as to assess the performance of their elected representatives, as well as to follow the debates being held in the House on key issues of the day.

We therefore have the right to assess how well our MPs represent us, though we may be challenged by our other roles as family members and providers for our society. Hence it is the responsibility of Parliament to provide the resources for citizens to view, review, and share how our representative debated and decided on the laws we ascribe to. Public access to all Parliament sittings is thus allowed for all citizens and residents at any time, though space might be somewhat limited. Fortunately, as live broadcasting was already available to us, Radio Television Singapore and later the Singapore Broadcasting Corporation (SBC) were compelled to bring the proceedings in parliament to all homes, fully, and freely, such as the live telecast of the Budget Debate on SBC in 1992.

The Issue Today

Though we, the electorate, have to choose our representatives in Parliament, it may be that we are losing or have lost the rights to engage the House in a progressive and constructive way. Live telecasts of parliamentary proceedings have recently been removed and truncated in spite of Singapore’s determined drive to become a “Smart Nation”, when 25 years ago, the Singapore Broadcasting Corporation (SBC) was already telecasting the Budget Debate and opening of Parliament live on television. The Online Citizen (TOC), an independent opinion and news site, recently suggested that our Parliament’s records now belong to MediaCorp, as evidenced by a copyright infringement filed by Channel News Asia regarding TOC’s use of a parliamentary video. TOC has also been told that payment was to be made to CNA for the use of parliamentary videos on a per-video basis. These anomalies highlight how our public assets may have been transferred with no compunction or accountability by the executive branch of government.

These issues were formally taken up on 7 November 2017 in Parliament as well. Leon Perera, a Non-Constituency Member of Parliament asked “(a) which entity owns the copyright to the video recordings of parliamentary proceedings; and (b) if these video records are protected by copyright, whether the Ministry will consider removing such copyright and making all video footage of parliamentary proceedings freely available for use.” To which Senior Minister of State for Communications and Information Chee Hong Tat responded that MediaCorp, Singapore’s national broadcaster, has been commissioned by the government to cover parliamentary proceedings, and that the recordings can be used for personal and non-commercial purposes with proper attribution to MediaCorp.

When pressed on why Parliament has not provided its own live feed and made recordings available via a searchable archive—a practice already in place in developed countries such as Australia and France—Chee Hong Tat responded that “the reason why we do not have a live feed is because this is not in great demand”, the same reasoning over twenty years ago by then-Minister for Information and the Arts George Yeo. Mr Chee also clarified that videos are sorted and edited to reflect what has been said in Parliament, and asserted there is no need to look for imaginary problems.

Negative online responses to the Senior Minister of State’s clarifications came swiftly, with various interpretations and accusations why the executive ministry of communications and information has yet to confer this modest and available solution onto Parliament. An online petition was also initiated on the website “Change.org” by a Mr Chee Hong Lau to demonstrate that there are Singaporeans who want the rights to watch their Parliament’s debates on YouTube Live. Mr Chee’s petition has already elicited 2,250 signatories, at the time of writing, within 6 days of its initiation.

Although the online responses and signatories reflect a considerably small number of Singaporeans, they indicate that the lack of a live telecast and full archive isn’t an imaginary problem. And as more calls for accountability increase with today’s transport and communication woes, these social media posts and notifications will continue to taint our country’s reputation and sap the people’s belief in their citizenships.

Why This Public Petition Matters, and What it Entails

The online petition and chatter however, may not solve our Parliament’s lack of accountability as they offer no legislative recourse. No online comment, including those on the Senior Minister of State’s Facebook page and CNA’s, can demand a satisfactory explanation or solution, and can be deleted at whim. Nor does the online petition have the legality to provoke any action by our legislative and executive branches. The only recourse  with a chance of success that remains with us is the archaic pen and paper Public Petition, which can be delivered to the Petitions Committee headed by the Speaker of Parliament.

This petition has the best chance of being addressed in Parliament with a more accountable team, as it follows the footsteps of this year’s Sungei Road Thieves’ Market petition, which successfully elicited a written response from the Ministry of the Environment and Water Resources on 23rd October. So far, there has been no reason for the Petitions Committee to reject our proposal for an investment or investigation to reinstate our Parliament live telecasts. The worst that could happen is that we receive a more comprehensive explanation of our rights to parliamentary sittings and a greater number of citizens would have been educated on the governance of their rights. But if we do nothing, there would be no added pressure on our MPs to investigate what the executive has done to the electorate’s access to legislative proceedings. Nor would the constant demand for free telecasts appeal to Mediacorp to invest in such a platform. The negative chatter and resentment may even bring up its viewership, but at what costs?

For the sake of competent parliamentary debates now and in the future, for a society and community that understands and supports the laws they abide by, and to provide the next generation of leaders an early education in the governance of our Republic, among other reasons, the writers and signatories would like to see a complete and as unmediated a telecast of our Parliamentary sessions as possible, along with the archives one might refer to for reference, research, and remembrance of Singapore.

We therefore hope to submit this Parliamentary Petition, by Standing Order 18 of the Parliament of Singapore, to have the issue regarding the lack of a complete and live telecast and archive of our Legislature looked into, comprehensively debated within Parliament, and, if possible, a motion that tasks the Ministry of Communications and Information to enforce a return of all past and future videos of our Parliamentary sittings, in full and verbatim, into the public domain. We understand that the language and jargon used in the following petition may be rather archaic, but it is in accordance to the Standing Orders laws for the Parliament of Singapore, dated 1961. The rules regarding a public petition is also fairly strict, but as long as you imprint your details to the fullest and clearest detail on the page, there should be no issue. Last but not least, do feel free to photocopy the table for signatures so you may pass on the petition to others.

Thank you for your consideration and Best Regards.

Instructions for collecting signatures for the petition

  1. This is a parliamentary petition. It has to be submitted in hard copy with no photocopies/fax copies/scanned copies of signatures.
  2. The petition consists of the details of the petition on page 1, and a table for signatures on page 2.
  3. Only Singaporeans / PRs aged 18 and above can sign the petition.
  4. Please write and sign in ink, no pencil allowed.
  5. If you made a mistake, please do not use liquid paper. Just cancel neatly and initial above the cancellation.
  6. Please print only page 2 (table) in single sheet (no front/back printing).
  7. Names must be written in full, according to your identity card.
  8. Home address (not email address) must be written in full. This is to verify that you exist and reside in Singapore.
  9. Please complete a full page of 10 signatures. We cannot submit less than a full page.Download the PDF file for the petition signatures (3rd page of the petition) here. View the full petition here.

In case you are wondering……

  1. Do you need to put down your NRIC number? According to Standing Orders 18 for public petitions, only the names and addresses of the signee are needed.
  2. Why is the word ‘Pray’ use? The word Pray is not used in the religious sense but in old English to preface a polite request.

Rules regarding a public petition may be found pages 13-15 in the Standing Orders of the Parliament of Singapore here:

Return to us by mailing it back to:  The Online Citizen, 20 Maxwell Road #09-17, Maxwell House, Singapore 069113

No set date for submission, ideal is to submit in March 2018.