Speaker David Carter has received some complaints about MPs tweeting during Question Time. One of the complaints seems to be about MPs in the House tweeting criticisms of the Speaker (as reported by Parliament Today).
Some of us here also have made that complaint of the Speaker, while watching Question Time live. In a democracy, I would have thought that is a legitimate question to ask. Being able to watch Parliament and discussing proceedings online as they are happening, seems very democratic – it enables citizens to converse with politicians as they are deliberating on, and discussing various issues.
Today David Carter made a speech to the House about his considering of the complaints, resulting in him deciding to refer the issue to the Privileges Committee.
I think the Speaker just sent Twitter to the Privileges Cttee.
Carter stated that no specific allegations have been made of an MP breaching Parliamentary Privilege. In the course of his statement, Carter said:
The long standing and carefully nuanced rules of the House do not necessarily sit comfortably with the informal and instant nature of the new information, communications technology, with its potential to reach a very wide audience very quickly.
While members tweeting from the Chamber during Question time or debates is clearly not a proceeding in Parliament, this is not well understood. And nor are the House’s wider rules protecting parliamentary proceedings and the various participants in them. Tweets may be actionable in the courts. Members could find themselves held in contempt by the House for publishing a false or misleading account of proceedings or reflecting on the character or conduct of the House or members.
Furthermore, accusations that the Speaker has shown partiality in discharging his or duties, have in the past been judged very seriously, given the special position the speaker holds.
Carter decided that in the light of the new capabilities for communication provided by this technology, there needed to be some clarification of the rules regarding privilege.
Certainly, I do think the whole way Question Time and debates are conducted need some revision, in the light of the way communications enable us to follow proceedings. New media, like Twitter and blogs, enables some very useful real time communciation on proceedings.
I understand the issues of MPs staying within the law, and potentially making misleading accounts. But, this can, and does, happen via the media following the proceedings in the House. How does it happening in real time make a difference? Other than the Speaker gets to censor what MPs say?
Too often the House just seems to be an arena for game playing, restricted by some antiquated rules, presided over by a partisan referee. I think there is a need for a neutral referee.
There needs to be a review of various aspects of Question time and parliamentary debates. The questions asked should be about whether the rules and procedures serve the people and democratic processes?
Carter’s statement can be viewed here: