I recently wrote to the forum editor of Today to contribute to the debate surrounding the need for having live broadcasts of parliamentary proceedings. As with any editing process, some bits were removed. While it does not change the fundamental points of my piece, some stylistic choices were gone. The following is the original letter:
I refer to Dr Michelle Khoo’s letter, “No plans for live Parliament broadcast, which runs risk of changing sober tone of proceedings: Govt” (Today, 15 May 2020).
As a freelance performer and an independent theatre reviewer, I am bemused that the press secretary to the Minister of Culture, Community, and Youth would evoke theatre to mean something frivolous.
Perhaps she should reäcquaint with the fact that one of the ancient roots of theatre lies in the state, ritual, and the polis. The closest manifestations of that today are state functions and ceremonies, including parliamentary proceedings.
As long as there is someone doing something and another present to witness it, there is a performative element inherent in the activity.
I am supportive of having a live broadcast, and by that, I mean an online broadcast. I will not be surprised if several supporters of this move had that in mind as well. It is impractical to have a channel on television dedicated to parliamentary proceedings because we do not have a public broadcaster such as the British Broadcasting Corporation (BBC), and it is equally impractical to disrupt an existing channel’s programming.
To that end, Dr Khoo’s argument of low demand as seen in television viewership is not fully relevant. Furthermore, it is fascinating that she leaves out the online viewership figures of the occasional live broadcasts.
Besides, a complete broadcast of parliamentary proceedings is a public service and should not be tied to ratings. The government should provide as many opportunities for citizens to scrutinise proceedings and their representatives as possible.
Whether we make use of it, is up to us.
Additionally, a live broadcast leaves a copy of the complete proceedings for us to review at a convenient time. Having access to recordings of only the speeches leaves out a lot of information of how members behave in parliament and the general atmosphere of the debate.
What is unsaid is equally crucial as what is said.
As for Dr Khoo’s worries of MPs “playing to the gallery” or “striking poses”, she should have more faith in the integrity of our MPs. 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. However, if an MP feels the urge to preen, pose, and play to the gallery, it is more of a reflection on said MP as opposed to the audience.
Finally, having spent countless hours in the theatre, I can assure Dr Khoo in full confidence that 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.
I invite Dr Khoo to spend some serious time in the theatre, when the curtains are raised again, to experience this for herself.