Back in May 2020, then Non Constituency Member of Parliament (now elected Member of Parliament (MP) for Aljunied Group Representative Constituency), Leon Perera of the Workers’ Party had called for parliamentary sessions to be live streamed. This suggestion was rebuffed by then Leader of the House, Grace Fu (through her press secretary Dr. Michele Khoo) on the basis that live broadcasts of Parliament risk turning the House into a “form of theatre” which would not add to transparency.
To bolster her refusal for live telecasts of parliamentary debates, Fu had cited the low viewership figures of major speeches. Yet in a move that seemed totally contradictory to what she said, the Peoples’ Action Party (PAP) dominated Government proceeded to announce the broadcast of a series of speeches by our ministers about COVID-19 which were delivered from 7-20 June. At that time, these televised COVID-19 speeches were criticised for potentially being political rallies disguised as COVID-19 speeches.
Given that the ministerial speeches provided nothing groundbreaking, one wonders if there was a need for such live broadcasts at all?
Now that the PAP has decisively won the general election in July, it would seem like the Government is once again going back on what it said about live broadcasts of parliamentary speeches by televising a parliamentary speech by Prime Minister Lee Hsien Loong via Channel News Asia and Facebook. COVID-19 was once again the pretext for this broadcast.
In his lengthy address which appeared more like a lecture than a speech, the Prime Minister talked about many things apart from the COVID-19 pandemic. Heavy on self praise, Lee also found the time to take seemingly unrelated pot shots at the WP. Was a live telecast of this lecture really necessary? Yet again, could it seem like a chance for the Prime Minister to have uninterrupted air time for his own agenda hiding behind the cover of the pandemic?
From a refusal to telecast parliamentary debates live due to low viewership of speeches to live prime time broadcasts of a series of ministerial speeches to a live screening of a lengthy speech from the Prime Minister in just circa four months! What a U turn!
Does this signal clearly that live telecasts are only permitted if there is no way members of the PAP can look bad? Are Parliamentary debates not suitable for live airing because there is a potential for an alternative party politician to show a PAP one down? Perhaps speeches from PAP ministers where there is no chance of interruption are the only ones that will ever be televised live.
One rule for the PAP and another rule for the others.