SINGAPORE - The Government has agreed in principle to live-stream parliamentary proceedings, said Minister for Communications and Information S. Iswaran.
He told the House on Friday (Sept 4) that his ministry will study the technical and implementation details.
While he said the Government still holds its earlier reservations about live streaming, he noted that global and technological trends have made online streaming commonplace and seen legislatures in other countries live-streaming proceedings.
"Parliament is a forum for serious debate on national issues. The debate in Parliament should be vigorous, but the tone should be sober," Mr Iswaran said.
"An element of cut-and-thrust is unavoidable, even necessary, because Members want to show Singaporeans that their concerns are expressed, and questions asked and answered in Parliament.
"However, it is equally important that Members come to grips with the issues and their complexities and not simply play to the gallery. Live broadcasts risk compromising this."
The live-streaming of Parliament proceedings has been raised previously, with various opposition MPs and Nominated MPs filing questions the topic over the last term.
In May, then-Leader of the House Grace Fu rejected renewed calls for live streaming, noting that there are other avenues for members of the public to watch the proceedings.
All speeches and exchanges are recorded and made available online, with video clips uploaded within hours of each sitting. People can also choose to view the Hansard, or attend Parliamentary sittings in person.
“These already give us the full benefits of transparency, accountability and accessibility,” Mr Iswaran said on Friday.
“We have been reluctant to go further for both practical and policy reasons. Demand for such live broadcasts, even of major speeches, is generally low; only 10 per cent of that of free-to-air television news for example.”
But in the spirit of engaging with Singaporeans, the Government has decided to change its position of live-streaming of parliamentary proceedings, he said, adding that details will be announced soon.
“Our aim, as always, will be to achieve transparency, accountability and accessibility while preserving the integrity and dignity of Parliamentary proceedings.”
Leader of the Opposition Pritam Singh said he welcomed the change and acknowledged the Government’s concerns.
“But it is our view that that element of theatre will be exposed also and the public will conclude fairly quickly, if not immediately... who is here to turn Parliament into a theatre and who is here to be serious about Parliament as a forum where serious matters are discussed,” said the Workers’ Party chief.
Mr Iswaran responded that the experience of other countries does not give Singapore “a lot of reason to be optimistic in terms of the tone and nature of debates in Parliament, and the impact such streaming or broadcasting will have”.
“Is there a causal relationship? We don’t know for sure. But there is reason to have concerns, and that is why I articulated what I did,” he said.
“So what it means is that at the end of the day it is not axiomatic one way or the other, and it depends on all of us as parliamentarians to maintain the decorum, the dignity and the integrity of our proceedings through rigorous debate based on facts and focused on the long-term interests of Singaporeans.”
This article was first published in The Straits Times. Permission required for reproduction.