House of Commons Procedure and Practice
Edited by Robert Marleau and Camille Montpetit
2000 EditionMore information …
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24. The Parliamentary Record

Broadcasting Services

Historical Perspective

Prior to the introduction of television in the House of Commons in 1977, only special parliamentary events, such as openings of Parliament and addresses by distinguished visitors, [87]  were broadcast. The question of radio and television broadcasting was debated in the House in 1967 and 1969 and referred to a procedure committee in 1970. [88]  The committee’s report, tabled in 1972, discussed the concept of an “electronic Hansard” whereby radio and television coverage would be a faithful record of proceedings and debates in the House, in the same sense as the written Debates[89]  This approach was to become a guiding principle in the broadcasting of House proceedings. Parliament was dissolved before the committee’s recommendations could be considered. A feasibility study was undertaken in 1974 [90]  and on January 25, 1977, the House adopted the following motion:

That this House approves the radio and television broadcasting of its proceedings and of the proceedings of its committees on the basis of the principles similar to those that govern the publication of the printed official reports of debates; and that a special committee, consisting of Mr. Speaker and seven other members to be named at a later date, be appointed to supervise the implementation of this resolution … [91] 

The special committee chaired by Speaker James Jerome made the necessary decisions as to lighting, camera placement and other matters. During the summer recess, the Chamber was extensively refitted and on October 17, 1977, gavel-to-gavel coverage of the proceedings of the House of Commons began. [92] 

In 1989, a consortium of cable television companies and the Canadian Broadcasting Corporation jointly proposed a new specialty cable channel, to be called the Canadian Parliamentary Channel (CPAC), which would broadcast the House of Commons proceedings as well as other public affairs programming. A committee undertook a study of this proposal within a wide-ranging review of broadcasting and the House of Commons. [93]  In its final report, [94]  the committee endorsed the CPAC proposal. The committee also found existing camera guidelines unnecessarily strict. [95]  Although the report itself was not concurred in, a motion endorsing the CPAC proposal in principle was adopted by the House. [96]  Further enhancements proposed by the committee were taken up by the House and implemented. [97]  In 1992, the House agreed to the use of a greater variety of camera angles during the coverage of Question Period and of recorded votes. [98] 

Authority and Jurisdiction

At an early stage, well before the House agreed to the broadcasting of its proceedings, it was clear that control of any such broadcasting system, including the safeguarding of the electronic Hansard concept, was to remain with the House and under the supervision of the Speaker acting on behalf of all Members. [99] 

In support of this principle, the Standing Committee on Procedure and House Affairs has, as part of its permanent mandate, the duty to review and report on the broadcasting of proceedings of the House and its committees, and to deal with any complaints from Members in connection with such broadcasting. [100] 

Current Arrangements

The broadcasting service provided by the House ensures that the daily proceedings of the House are taped, archived and distributed live to the media. In addition, House and committee proceedings are transmitted via satellite and distributed on the Canadian Public Affairs Channel (CPAC), [101]  which makes use of the existing national system of cable television channels. CPAC viewers have access to live, gavel-to-gavel proceedings of the House, the daily replay of Question Period, and committee coverage.

The broadcast system is integrated into the architecture of the Chamber so as not to offend existing decor. Committee and House proceedings are broadcast and recorded from the opening of business until adjournment and distributed to outside users without editing or revision. [102] 

Chamber Proceedings

The Chamber is equipped with cameras mounted beneath the galleries and operated from a control room constructed over the south gallery, invisible from the floor of the House. The recording of the proceedings is governed by guidelines, intended to preserve the concept of the electronic Hansard, as adopted by the House. [103]  The camera focusses on the Speaker, or on the Member who has been recognized by the Speaker. During debate, camera shots are restricted to the head and torso of the Member speaking, and the microphone picks up only his or her voice. Reaction shots, split screens and cutaway shots are not permitted. In order to give viewers a better appreciation of “the context and dynamic of the House”, wider camera angles, showing more of the House and its Members, may be used during Question Period and the taking of recorded votes. [104] 

Committee Proceedings

The resolution adopted by the House in 1977 also applied to the broadcasting of committee proceedings; however, the special committee implementing radio and television broadcasting determined that further study was necessary before committee proceedings could be televised. [105]  In the next Parliament, the Speaker was asked to rule on the question of whether a committee had the power to televise and decided that since no guidelines had been established, the broadcasting of committee proceedings could only be authorized by the House itself. [106] 

Beginning in 1980, a number of committees received permission from the House to broadcast their proceedings on a single-issue basis — that is, to broadcast a single meeting, or all the meetings held with respect to a particular order of reference. [107] In 1991, the House adopted a rule codifying the requirement for committees to seek the consent of the House to use House facilities for broadcasting. This new rule also required the then Standing Committee on House Management to establish experimental guidelines which, when concurred in by the House, would govern the broadcasting of committee meetings. [108]  In 1992, the House concurred in the Committee’s report recommending the audio broadcast of all public committee meetings and the equipping of one committee room for television broadcasting, with an evaluation to be made by the Committee after six months. [109]  In April 1993, the House agreed to continue these broadcasting arrangements on a permanent basis, subject to ongoing review by the Standing Committee on Procedure and House Affairs. [110] 

Access to Broadcast Materials

Members may listen to selected committee meetings on an in-house radio network; they may also view the live broadcast of House or committee proceedings on an in-house television network. Both networks provide service in French, English or “floor” sound (the actual language of debate, without interpretation). In addition to providing a live feed which is accessible by other media apart from the parliamentary television channel, the Broadcasting Service of the House maintains a complete video archive dating back to October 1977. Members may request retrieval and replay of any part of the televised proceedings of the House and may also obtain video and/or audio copies of House and committee proceedings.

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