On Monday (18 May), a freelance performer in an open letter expressed his puzzlement with the Leader of the House Grace Fu’s press secretary Michele Khoo’s argument that live parliamentary broadcasts could pose a risk of changing the tone of proceeding “into a form of theatre”.
The letter written by TODAY’s reader, Issac Tan Baorong titled, ‘Use of theatre analogy for decision on live parliamentary broadcasts a puzzling one’ was responding to a letter by Leader of the House Grace Fu’s press secretary Michele Khoo last Friday (15 May) about Government had no plan to broadcast Parliament sitting live.
Mr Tan, who is also an independent theatre reviewer, explained that the performative element will exist in the activity that people are watching over someone doing something, which also include parliamentary proceedings.
“One of the ancient roots of theatre lies in the state, ritual and the polis. The closest present-day manifestations of this are state functions and ceremonies, including parliamentary proceedings.
“As long as someone is doing something and another is present to witness it, there is a performative element inherent in the activity,” he said.
In response to Dr Khoo’s comment that MPs “playing to the gallery” or “striking poses” for histrionic effect, Mr Tan suggested the press secretary to have more faith in the integrity of parliamentarians.
He said, “It is natural for them to feel pressured in the knowledge that their constituents are watching them as they speak or listen; representing the people is a grave responsibility.
“But if an MP has an urge to preen, pose and play to the gallery, it is more of a reflection on the MP than on the audience,” he asserted.
Voicing his support over online live parliamentary broadcast, Mr Tan remarked that it is “impractical” to have a television channel or disrupt an existing channel’s programming for parliamentary proceedings.
“Therefore, Dr Khoo’s argument of low demand, measured against TV viewership, is not fully relevant,” he said, noting that the online viewership figures for the occasional live broadcasts have also been excluded in her response.
Mr Tan stressed that Singaporeans should be given opportunities to study the parliament proceedings and whether to use the broadcast depends on the audience.
“A complete broadcast of parliamentary proceedings is a public service and should not be tied to ratings.
“The Government should provide as many opportunities as possible for citizens to scrutinise proceedings and their representatives. Whether we make use of the broadcast is up to us,” he said.
Not only this, Mr Tan also mentioned that a complete proceeding that has been recorded through live broadcast could leave a copy for people to review at a convenient time.
He reasoned that the information on how MPs behave in Parliament as well as the general atmosphere of the debate will be missed out if the public only access to the speech recordings.
With his theatre experiences, Mr Tan assured with full confidence, saying, “The tone of the proceedings is up to those being watched, what they say and how they play their part.
“One should not blame the broadcast medium or the audience, who are meant to be there in the first place,” he added.
Spokesperson for the Singapore Parliament’s Leader of the House says it has no plans to broadcast Parliament sittings live
Last Friday (15 May), the press secretary of Grace Fu, Dr Khoo commented that instead of providing transparency, live broadcast will “create a risk that Parliament is turned into a form of theatre”.
Her remark was made after a former Singaporean diplomat and current public policy consultant Chirag Agarwal published a letter in TODAY advocating for live broadcasts of Parliamentary proceedings.
Dr 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.
“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.
Meanwhile, in 2017, TOC reported several issues with the lack of live broadcasts of Parliamentary proceedings, which include:
- Hansard not recording everything that happens in Parliament;
- The videos being cut at the last reply of the Ministers, without showing the Speaker disallowing follow up questions, if any;
- Speeches by MP are handed up to the ministries to prepare their response for the Ministers;
- 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.