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.
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 noted.
The Government, he said, has been reluctant to go further with live-streaming for both practical and policy reasons.
Demand for such live broadcasts, even of major speeches, is generally low with only 10 per cent of that of free-to-air television news.
And debate in Parliament - a forum for serious debate on national issues - should be vigorous, but with a sober tone, he 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," he said.
"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."
But in the spirit of engaging with Singaporeans, the Government will study how to implement live-streaming of Parliament, he said.
"Our aim, as always, will be to achieve transparency, accountability and accessibility while preserving the integrity and dignity of Parliamentary proceedings."
Mr Iswaran noted that MPs should not just be the voice of the people in Parliament.
They must also be the voice of hope, and the voice of reason, he added. "To be candid about the challenges we face, honest about the choices and trade-offs, not just about what we want but also what we have to give up to get it, and ultimately what we believe to be in the long term interest of our citizens."
This is something that MPs should not take lightly, he said.
"What we say cannot be unsaid. It is there for the record for the future and everyone - Singaporeans, new citizens or Singapore-born, others who are here - will all be looking at this," he added.
"And I think we in this House as elected representatives must hold ourselves up to a higher standard. If we don't, then I think we fail our duties as Members of Parliament and I think we ultimately do a disservice to Singaporeans."
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."