An open letter by the spokesperson for the Singapore Parliament’s Leader of the House has garnered criticism from members of the public.
In response to former Singaporean diplomat and current public policy consultant Chirag Agarwal’s letter in TODAY advocating for live broadcasts of Parliamentary proceedings, Michele Khoo — the press secretary of Grace Fu — wrote that Singapore has not chosen to do so “for practical and fundamental reasons”.
She said, in a letter published on TODAY on Friday (15 May), that “the present arrangements to make the contents of Parliament sittings available online but with a short delay already give us the full benefits of transparency, accountability and accessibility”.
“The Singapore Parliament provides timely and comprehensive access to its proceedings. Anyone can watch proceedings in person from the Strangers’ Gallery.
“Every speech and exchange in Parliament is recorded and made available online. Clips, categorised by topic and speaker, are uploaded within hours of each sitting. Hansard is a full written record of parliamentary proceedings and is available online.
Dr Khoo also argued that live broadcasts will not provide transparency, but will instead “create a risk that Parliament is turned into a form of theatre”.
“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.
“This has been the tone of proceedings in the Singapore Parliament, but is not always the way other parliaments conduct their business.
“We therefore have no plans to broadcast Parliament sittings live and risk changing the tone of proceedings in Parliament,” she concluded.
Many netizens, in their commentary of Dr Khoo’s public response to Mr Agarwal’s letter, pointed out that editing footage of Parliamentary proceedings and selectively reporting them through news segments serve more to turn Parliament into “a theatre” than a live broadcast would.
Members of the House, they added, also frequently rehearse their answers to purported pre-selected questions and tend to read from their scripts, instead of training to respond and rebut challenging questions on the spot.
A commenter questioned why the Government appears hesitant to broadcast Parliamentary proceedings live but have, without reservations, live-streamed the national Budget.
One commenter highlighted that Dr Khoo’s assertion that live broadcast of Parliamentary proceedings will lead to chaos is erroneous, as the Speaker has a duty to “maintain debate rigour and order” in the House.
Live broadcasts of Parliamentary proceedings, added Christopher Soo, also provides the opportunity for citizens to participate actively in the democratic process in Singapore.
In her letter, Dr Khoo also cited Non-Constituency Member of Parliament (MP) Leon Perera’s example of sports events being broadcast live.
“Sports gain from live broadcasts, with the audience cheering on their favourites, and enjoying the thrills and spills of the moment,” she wrote.
However, asking for live broadcasts of Parliament proceedings, they said, is rooted in taxpayers’ need for transparency from the officials they have elected, and not in the urge to “cheer” during the proceedings.
Several commenters recalled how the Singapore Parliament in the past used to hold live broadcasts of its sittings.
Several commenters argued that live broadcasts — if taken advantage of properly — will showcase the abilities and calibre of the MPs and incentivise not only their attendance, but also their active participation in the debates.
One commenter pointed out that countries such as Australia and New Zealand each have a dedicated channel for Parliamentary business due to how important it is to citizens.
Malaysia similarly has a channel specifically for Parliament sittings, airing live from Monday to Thursday when Parliament is in session.
The broadcasts are run by state-owned Radio Televisyen Malaysia (RTM) under the Ministry of Communications and Multimedia.
The channel can be viewed via on-demand Internet television service HyppTV or online via this website.
In her response to Mr Agarwal, Dr Khoo also argued that the demand for such broadcasts is low.
“Even when major speeches such as the national Budget are broadcast live, the viewership is only a tenth of that of free-to-air television news,”
Three years ago, Chee Hong Tat, the Minister of State for Ministry of Communication and Information, had similarly cited how viewership as a reason not to hold live broadcasts of Parliamentary proceedings.
TOC in 2017 reported several issues with the lack of live broadcasts of Parliamentary proceedings, including:
- Hansard not recording everything that happens in Parliament;
- The videos being abruptly cut at the last reply of the Ministers, without showing the Speaker disallowing follow up questions, if any;
- Speeches by Ministers in response to MP’s questions prepared beforehand;
- Videos being archived and kept by CNA six months from the date of the proceedings, with the public having to pay to access the videos from that point onwards; and
- Mediacorp needing to seek the permission of the MP before the videos can be released.