Wednesday, 10 January 2018

Parliament Sessions Should be Screened Live

Improve accountability by telecasting Parliament sessions live

I applaud Mr Leon Perera for his apology in Parliament, but actions should be taken to prevent similar incidences (Parliament: WP's Leon Perera apologises, withdraws statements on Mediacorp's editing of parliamentary footage; ST Online, Jan 8).

With the resurgence of fake news, there is a possibility of Parliament being manipulated by outside forces or parliamentarians using unreliable information.

Parliament has utmost authority in Singapore and any manipulation could be harmful for the country.

Steps need to be taken to prevent Parliament from being misled. This could involve increasing the accountability of parliamentarians, which can be done through live telecasting of parliamentary proceedings.

A trial of this should be done.

Live telecasts would allow Singaporeans access to Parliament, hence putting public pressure on parliamentarians to be accountable, for instance, sticking to statements made by them in and out of Parliament, or being cognisant of the details of any cases they bring up.

Live telecasts would also prevent any further questions on the neutrality of parliamentary reports.

As Singapore's democracy evolves, new measures must be taken to deter those who wish to manipulate Parliament.

Parliament must evolve as well, or face further problems in the future.

Christopher Burchell-Davies
ST Forum, 9 Jan 2018

Parliament: Workers' Party Leon Perera apologises, withdraws statements on Mediacorp's editing of parliamentary footage
By Ng Jun Sen, The Straits Times, 9 Jan 2018

Workers' Party Non-Constituency MP Leon Perera apologised to Parliament yesterday for saying last November that Mediacorp had edited parliamentary footage, adding that he did not deliberately mislead the House.

As events turned out, he said, his "memory of the incident was inaccurate".

His apology came in response to a letter last week from Leader of the House Grace Fu, who asked him to to withdraw his allegations that Mediacorp had deliberately edited footage of a debate.

Mr Perera had said during the Parliament sitting on Nov 7 that Mediacorp had omitted "certain bits" from a video of a debate on the elected presidency in February last year. He had also said the broadcaster rectified the issue only after he had intervened in an e-mail.

Retracting this yesterday, he said: "I would now like to definitively withdraw my earlier statements to the effect that the video had been edited with certain bits removed, and corrected after my intervention. I confirm that Mediacorp had explained this to me, and I had accepted that."

It turned out that the footage originally uploaded by the broadcaster had been plagued by recording issues, but it was already replaced before Mr Perera's e-mail.

Mr Perera said yesterday: "I did not deliberately misrepresent facts or deliberately mislead the House for whatever reason."

He added that he had brought up the example only because Senior Minister of State for Communications and Information Chee Hong Tat had asked him for examples of edited parliamentary footage.

Mr Chee was responding to Mr Perera's parliamentary question on whether Mediacorp's parliamentary footage can be made freely available to people.

Recounting the exchange, Mr Perera said it showed he did not intend to deliberately mislead the House, for instance he had said he was prepared to accept the version of events as stated by Mr Chee.

Mr Chee had said after checking with Mediacorp that Mr Perera was told the omission was due to a recording fault.

Ms Fu, thanking Mr Perera for the apology, said she did not want to "read too much" into whether his intentions were deliberate, adding: "The MPs are given parliamentary privilege to speak freely and surface different views, but this must not be misused to misrepresent facts or mislead the Parliament."

"Statements that are wrongly made in this House deserve to be retracted if they are indeed untrue, so that members can benefit from the discussion and restore trust in each other's statement in this House. Only in that way, we can have a useful and effective discussion in this House," said Ms Fu, who is also Minister for Culture, Community and Youth.

MPs from both sides of the House have been taken to task in the past over misleading or offensive statements made in Parliament.

For instance, former People's Action Party MP Sin Boon Ann apologised in 2009 for citing an unverified e-mail criticising The Straits Times, while former Speaker of Parliament Tan Soo Khoon apologised in 2002 for suggesting that the Government had deliberately misled Parliament over transport fare hikes.


House Leader Grace Fu asks WP's Leon Perera to apologise for misleading Parliament over Mediacorp's footage
NCMP alleged Mediacorp edited clip on elected presidency debate
By Ng Jun Sen, The Straits Times, 4 Jan 2018

Leader of the House Grace Fu yesterday wrote to Workers' Party Non-Constituency MP Leon Perera, asking that he withdraw his "false allegations" that Mediacorp had deliberately edited parliamentary footage of a debate on changes to the elected presidency.

She also called on Mr Perera to apologise at the parliamentary sitting next Monday for misrepresenting the facts and misleading Parliament during an earlier sitting on Nov 7 last year.

"I hope that having had time to reflect on the matter, you will do the right thing and set a correct example for maintaining clean and honest politics in Singapore," she wrote.

When contacted, Mr Perera said he was studying the letter and considering the most appropriate response.

In her letter copied to Speaker of Parliament Tan Chuan-Jin, Ms Fu set out the sequence of events before and after Mr Perera's exchange with Senior Minister of State for Communications and Information Chee Hong Tat on Nov 7.

In that exchange, Mr Perera claimed that Mediacorp had removed "certain bits" from a video on a debate last February. He also alleged Mediacorp rectified the omission only after he had intervened in an e-mail to the broadcaster.

However, Mr Chee pointed out in the same sitting that these allegations were untrue, having checked with Mediacorp on the nature and timeline of Mr Perera's correspondence.

In response, Mr Perera had said he was prepared to accept this fact once he verified it with his e-mail archive, and that it "could well be" the case as Mr Chee described it.

Mr Perera also said he brought up the anecdote about Mediacorp to establish whether or not there was any editing of parliamentary footage that is occasionally done.

Ms Fu, who is also Minister for Culture, Community and Youth, noted in her letter released yesterday that Mr Perera e-mailed Mediacorp on Feb 20 about the video.

He was told that a technical glitch had affected the recording and the full clip was put online two days earlier, on Feb 18. Mr Perera replied on Feb 21 and accepted Mediacorp's explanation, Ms Fu said.

But on Nov 7, Mr Perera cited the incident as an example of Mediacorp deliberately editing parliamentary footage, with "misleading facts", she added.

Ms Fu said Mr Perera's allegations are a serious matter as they amount to "a misrepresentation of facts and if left uncorrected, a misleading of Parliament".

While MPs enjoy parliamentary privilege to speak freely in Parliament and surface views from the public, they must be scrupulous with facts, she wrote.

"They must not misuse this privilege to misrepresent facts or make unfounded allegations. This will lower the standing of MPs and the Parliament, and undermine the integrity of our political system."

She called on Mr Perera to make a statement at the end of question time next Monday that his allegations were untrue, withdraw them in full, and apologise.

Asked why Ms Fu sent the letter nearly two months after the sitting, a Ministry of Communications and Information (MCI) spokesman said that as Mr Perera made the allegations in Parliament, the right forum to clear the matter would be in the House. "The earliest sitting since November's sitting is in fact the Jan 8 sitting," she added.

This is not the first time the Leader of the House has asked MPs to withdraw their allegations and apologise for misrepresentation.

In 2009, former People's Action Party MP Sin Boon Ann criticised The Straits Times for its reporting of the Aware saga, citing an e-mail he received from a person unknown to him which he had not verified, but "would not be surprised if it were true and would be very concerned if it is".

Mr Sin apologised the next day in Parliament for a lack of due diligence, and then Leader of the House Mah Bow Tan later issued a stern reminder to all MPs to not rely on unsubstantiated allegations.

In 2002, former Speaker of Parliament and then East Coast MP Tan Soo Khoon apologised for suggesting in a speech on transport fare hikes that then Deputy Prime Minister Lee Hsien Loong and the Public Transport Council had deliberately misled Parliament and Singaporeans.

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