According to Dr. Michele Khoo, a spokesperson for the Leader of the House, Grace Fu, live Parliamentary broadcasts risk turning the House into a “form of theatre”.
“An element of public performance is unavoidable because Singaporeans want to see their concerns expressed, and hear their questions asked and answered in Parliament,” Khoo said.
“The debate in Parliament should be vigorous, but the tone should be sober. Members have to come to grips with the issues and their complexities, and avoid playing to the gallery and striking poses for histrionic effect.”
Khoo also added that live broadcasts would not add to transparency. This retort was given in answer to questions and opinions raised by TODAY reader, Chirag Argawal, Non-Constituency Member of Parliament (NCMP) Leon Perera and Nominated Member of Parliament (NMP) Anthea Ong in favour of the live streaming of Parliamentary sessions.
Theatre performances usually require costumes, role playing and rehearsals. Is Khoo casting aspersions on the Members of Parliament (MPs), NCMPs and NMPs by implying that they are play acting in Parliament? Her choice of words seem to suggest that MPs, NCMPs and NMPs are insincere when they raise questions and debates in Parliament.
Parliamentary sessions are not meant to be rehearsed. They happen as they happen. Whether or not they are broadcast live should make no difference to what is being raised or discussed. Apart from giving Singaporeans a chance to feel engaged, invested and part of the process, what harm can a live broadcast do? Unless Khoo is concerned that our MPs might have performance anxiety if we are watching? If so, why so? They are elected to represent our interests so they should not feel nervous about us wanting to ensure that they are accountable and are indeed looking after our interests.
Khoo added that video clips of Parliamentary discussions are uploaded online in approximately 3 hours which renders the need for live broadcasts superfluous. This misses the point altogether. Clips are subject to editing and can be taken out of context. It may not provide the full flavour of a particular discussion that live streaming will.
Things taken out of context can be misrepresented and cause unnecessary confusion. Doesn’t the government want people to see the full picture as opposed to just the parts edited to fit into short video clips that shows the ministers in good light while the opposition MPs in questionable performance?
On this count, Khoo’s argument that airing Parliamentary proceedings live will not add to transparency is a fallacy.
In attempting to justify her position, Khoo also stated that said that demand for such live broadcasts was low. She based her opinion on viewership numbers for major speeches such as the national budget that are broadcast live which are only approximately a tenth of that of free-to-air TV news.
This is not a fair comparison. Speeches are prepared in advance and read. It is not the same as watching MPs engage in debates which have an impromptu element to it and where MPs will have to think on their feet. People will be far more interested in watching a live debate than a speech being read.
Besides, given that our Parliamentary sessions have never been broadcast live, Khoo’s assumption that demand would be low is comparing apples for pears.
With the advent of technology, sessions can be easily streamed online with little to no cost to Government. What difference then does it make to the Government whether or not the demand is high or low?
It is important to note that many democratic countries around the world ranging from the United Kingdom to the Philippines broadcast their Parliamentary sessions live. Is Khoo calling all these other Parliaments forms of theatre? If so, I doubt these countries would be impressed to hear that this is what Khoo, Fu and the rest of the government by extension, think of their governments.