Parliament: Why not livestream on Web or have virtual MPs' room?

A view of Parliament on May 5, 2020. PHOTO: GOV.SG

Four MPs spoke during the debate on the Constitution of the Republic of Singapore (Amendment) Bill passed yesterday. Here are some of the questions raised and replies by Leader of the House Grace Fu.

LIVESTREAMING OF PARLIAMENT

Continuity arrangements are an occasion to livestream parliamentary proceedings to the public, said Workers' Party Non-constituency MP Leon Perera. Investments would be made to livestream proceedings between two or more locations, and the extra step to make the feed available online would be relatively inexpensive, he said.

He noted that when the topic of live broadcasts of Parliament was discussed in 2017, the Government said there was no great demand, as only a fraction of persons watch such proceedings live. But demand is not static, and it is possible that more people will watch livestreams should they be available consistently, said Mr Perera.

Nominated MP Anthea Ong echoed this call, given that live viewing from the public gallery has been stopped due to safe distancing measures. She said the livestreaming of some updates by the multi-ministry task force on Covid-19 has demonstrated leadership in transparency and accountability, and in the same vein parliamentary debates should be accessible live.

Ms Fu replied that the Bill does not deal with broadcasting, and the public can easily access full parliamentary proceedings online in a timely and comprehensive manner. Complete footage of Parliament speeches, as well as questions and answers from each sitting, are also online, with highlights uploaded within three hours of broadcast.

PHYSICAL DEBATE IS ESSENTIAL

While technology enables Parliament to meet from multiple places, this is not without limitations, said Nominated MP Walter Theseira.

In-person discussions within Parliament are important to build trust and for national decision-making, he said, noting that much of the work of MPs is done outside of the debating Chamber.

One solution is for a virtual Members' Room so that informal discussions can continue even when MPs must be apart, he said.

Agreeing, Mr Christopher de Souza (Holland-Bukit Timah GRC) said changes to how Parliament operates should not be taken lightly, and should not become the norm. Having all MPs in one place regardless of political party or affiliation lets parliamentarians feel the tone and nuance of fellow MPs' speeches, and creates space for persuasion in close communication.

Ms Fu said she would relay both MPs' concerns to the Parliament Secretariat, for it to look at ways to have collaborative engagements among MPs under continuity arrangements.

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A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Straits Times on May 06, 2020, with the headline Parliament: Why not livestream on Web or have virtual MPs' room?. Subscribe