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House of Commons Procedure and Practice

Second Edition, 2009

House of Commons Procedure and Practice - 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,[95] 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.[96] The committee’s report, presented 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.[97] This approach was to become a guiding principle in the broadcasting of House proceedings. However, Parliament was dissolved before the committee’s recommendations could be considered. A feasibility study was undertaken in 1974[98] 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.[99]

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.[100]

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 of the proceedings of the House of Commons and its committees.[101] In its final report,[102] the committee endorsed the CPaC proposal. The committee also found existing camera guidelines unnecessarily strict.[103] Although the report itself was not concurred in, a motion endorsing the CPaC proposal in principle was agreed to by the House.[104] Further enhancements proposed by the committee were taken up by the House and implemented.[105] In 1992, the House authorized the use of a greater variety of camera angles during the coverage of Question Period and of recorded divisions.[106]

In 2003, the Special Committee on the Modernization and Improvement of the Procedures of the House of Commons approved the launch of the ParlVU service to the public. ParlVU is a service on the Parliament of Canada Web site that carries live and on-demand televised parliamentary proceedings from the Commons chamber and two committee rooms, and the live and on-demand audio from all non-televised public committee meetings. The listener may choose the English, French or floor audio, and high- or low-resolution video.[107]

*   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.[108]

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 radio and television broadcasting of proceedings of the House and its committees, and to deal with any complaints from Members in connection with such broadcasting.[109]

*   Current Arrangements

The broadcasting service provided by the House ensures that the daily proceedings of the House are captured, archived and distributed live to the members of the Parliamentary Press Gallery. In addition, the Cable Public Affairs Channel (CPAC)[110] broadcasts House and committee proceedings via cable and satellite services located across the country. Viewers have access to live, gavel‑to‑gavel proceedings of the House, the daily replay of Question Period, and televised committees.

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 revision or editing.[111]

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.[112] The recording of the proceedings is governed by guidelines, intended to preserve the concept of the electronic Hansard, as adopted by the House.[113] The camera focuses 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 divisions.[114]

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 broadcast.[115] 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.[116]

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.[117] 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.[118] 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.[119] 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.[120] In 2001, the House granted access by the electronic media to any public committee meeting held within the parliamentary precinct in Ottawa, subject to certain guidelines.[121] Later that same year, the House concurred in the report of the Special Committee on the Modernization and Improvement of the Procedures of the House of Commons, which recommended that a second committee room be equipped for televising by the House of Commons on a gavel-to-gavel basis.[122]

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 in French, English or the floor language (i.e., the actual language of debate, without interpretation) on an in‑house, closed-circuit television network. In addition, the ParlVU service, available through the Parliament of Canada Web site, carries live and on-demand televised parliamentary proceedings from the Commons chamber and two committee rooms, and the live and on-demand audio from all non-televised public committee meetings. The broadcasters that carry the CPAC channel provide service in French, English or floor sound.[123] 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, when the broadcasting of House of Commons proceedings began. In June 2003, the Board of Internal Economy approved the Memorandum of Understanding between the then National Archives of Canada and the House of Commons, whereby the Archives would assume the long-term responsibility for the care and preservation of the moving image archives, as part of Canada’s records heritage. The House of Commons maintains access to the current and previous Parliaments in order to continue providing Members with on-demand services. 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.



[95] For example, the address to both Houses of Parliament in the Commons chamber by Richard Nixon, President of the United States, on April 14, 1972, was televised.

[96] See Debates, June 5, 1967, pp. 1157‑66; March 26, 1969, pp. 7158‑79; Journals, March 23, 1970, p. 633.

[97] See Journals, June 30, 1972, pp. 471‑86.

[98] Canadian Broadcasting Corporation, Television Broadcasting of Parliament: A Feasibility Study, Ottawa, May 1976. The study was done by the Canadian Broadcasting Corporation for the President of the Privy Council. An earlier version, dated April 12, 1976, was tabled in the House (Journals, June 8, 1976, p. 1337). See Fraser, A., “Televising the Canadian House of Commons”, The Table, Vol. XLVII, 1979, pp. 66‑71.

[99] See Journals, January 25, 1977, p. 287.

[100] Debates, October 17, 1977, pp. 8201‑2. See also Speaker Jerome’s memoir, Mr. Speaker, Toronto: McClelland and Stewart Limited, 1985, pp. 113‑22.

[101] The matter was referred to the Standing Committee on Elections, Privileges, Procedure and Private Members’ Business on June 8, 1989 (Journals, p. 340).

[102] The Committee’s Ninth Report, entitled “Watching the House at Work”, was deemed presented to the House on December 29, 1989 (Journals, January 22, 1990, p. 1078).

[103] In one of its recommendations, the Committee suggested that the production and direction of House of Commons broadcasting should be delegated, under the supervision of a House committee, to the programming director who would exercise professional judgment in the choice of camera angles or shots, so as to “convey the full flavour of the House of Commons, and to ensure that the parliamentary broadcasts provide a dignified and accurate reflection of the House”. See the Ninth Report of the Standing Committee on Elections, Privileges, Procedure and Private Members’ Business, pp. 3‑6, 8‑10, deemed presented to the House on December 29, 1989 (Journals, January 22, 1990, p. 1078).

[104] Journals, February 23, 1990, p. 1277. Later in the session, on June 19, 1990 (Debates, pp. 12930‑48), a motion to concur in the committee report was debated but not disposed of.

[105] An example would be the production of informational videos. See the Nineteenth Report of the Standing Committee on Privileges and Elections, presented to the House on November 23, 1990 (Journals, p. 2289), and concurred in on December 19, 1990 (Journals, p. 2510).

[106] See the Twenty‑Second, Forty‑Third and Fifty‑Seventh Reports of the Standing Committee on House Management, presented to the House on February 12, 1992 (Journals, p. 1009), June 5, 1992 (Journals, p. 1632), and December 4, 1992 (Journals, p. 2285), respectively, and concurred in on April 29, 1992 (Journals, p. 1337), June 8, 1992 (Journals, p. 1638), and December 11, 1992 (Journals, p. 2399), respectively.

[107] ParlVU was launched initially in April 2003 on the parliamentary Intranet site for Members and their staff. The Canadian public has been able to view ParlVU through the parliamentary Web site since February 2, 2004. See the Fourth Report of the Special Committee on the Modernization and Improvement of the Procedures of the House of Commons, par. 23 to 30, presented to the House on June 12, 2003 (Journals, p. 915), and concurred in on September 18, 2003 (Journals, p. 995).

[108] See the Second Report of the Standing Committee on Procedure and Organization, par. 74, presented to the House on June 30, 1972 (Journals, pp. 471‑86). In 1979, for example, a Member crossed the floor of the House to sit with another party, but the cameras did not capture the event because to have done so would have contravened the House’s established television broadcasting guidelines (Debates, March 8, 1979, pp. 3943‑4). In another instance, when a point of order was raised as to the style of coverage of a budget presentation, the Speaker ruled that the coverage had not been consistent with previous budget presentations and suggested that the guidelines then in effect be observed until such time as the House decided otherwise (Debates, May 28, 1985, pp. 5146‑7). In 1995, the House agreed to the temporary installation of stationary television cameras on the floor of the House for the address of the President of the United States (Journals, February 20, 1995, p. 1151). Two cameras were placed next to the Bar of the House, one operated by Canadian television networks and one operated by the American networks.

In a 1993 case before the Supreme Court of Canada, a broadcaster had applied to film the proceedings of a provincial legislature from the public galleries, using its own cameras (New Brunswick Broadcasting Co. v. Nova Scotia (Speaker of the House of Assembly), [1993] 1 S.C.R. 319). The Speaker of the Assembly contended that to do so would interfere with the decorum and orderly proceedings of the Assembly, and moreover that the Assembly would have no control over the production or use of the film. The Court ruled in a majority opinion that in excluding the cameras from the gallery, the House of Assembly was exercising its right to control its internal proceedings and its right to exclude strangers from the House and its precincts. Five separate opinions were delivered in the Court’s 7‑1 decision. They are discussed at length in Maingot, 2nd ed., in particular pp. 306‑18.

[109] Standing Order 108(3)(a)(v).

[110] In 1991, the Canadian Broadcasting Corporation announced that it would no longer fund the Canadian Parliamentary Channel (CPaC) and the following year, a new cable consortium formed, called the Cable Parliamentary Channel (CPaC). In 1996, it was renamed the Cable Public Affairs Channel (CPAC).

[111] However, the House of Commons broadcast staff “enhance” the unedited images. An example is the insertion of information at the bottom of the screen, such as the name of the Member or committee witness speaking, or the subject of debate. In addition, since 1991, the daily live broadcast of Question Period across the country on the Cable Public Affairs Channel has been provided with English closed-captioning and French sign language (Langue des signes québécoise—LSQ). Since October 22, 2007, the House of Commons, in partnership with the Translation Bureau, Public Works and Government Services Canada, has provided French closed‑captioning for Question Period. The House of Commons is one of the world’s first legislatures to use state‑of‑the‑art voice recognition technology for remote live closed‑captioning of its proceedings.

[112] As part of the Chamber Technology Infrastructure Project, new camera and control systems were installed in the summer of 2003. These new systems deliver better views of Members and better coverage of the galleries. Two new cameras were positioned on top of each entrance adjacent to the Speaker’s chair. In the summer of 2004, a new sound system was installed to accommodate the unique acoustical properties of the Chamber, as well as a sound reinforcement system, new consolettes, an updated simultaneous interpretation system for the galleries and an infrastructure to meet possible future needs, such as electronic voting. See the Fourth Report of the Special Committee on the Modernization and Improvement of the Procedures of the House of Commons, par. 16 to 22, presented to the House on June 12, 2003 (Journals, p. 915), and concurred in on September 18, 2003 (Journals, p. 995).

[113] Journals, January 25, 1977, p. 287.

[114] See the Fifty‑Seventh Report of the Standing Committee on House Management (Minutes of Proceedings and Evidence, Issue No. 42, pp. 3‑4), presented to the House on December 4, 1992 (Journals, p. 2285), and concurred in on December 11, 1992 (Journals, p. 2399). The adoption of these new guidelines on wider angles was preceded by a trial period. See the Committee’s Twenty‑Second and Forty‑Third Reports, concurred in on April 29, 1992 (Journals, p. 1337), and June 8, 1992 (Journals, p. 1638), respectively.

[115] In what turned out to be its last report, the special committee raised a concern about the applicability of the “electronic Hansard” concept to broadcasting of committee proceedings and alluded to the need to consider procedures for the introduction of radio and television coverage in committees (Journals, November 23, 1977, p. 130).

[116] See Debates, November 6, 1980, pp. 4531‑2.

[117] A number of these were committees studying constitutional or financial matters. For further information, see the section on broadcasting in Chapter 20, “Committees”.

[118] Standing Order 119.1, adopted on April 11, 1991 (Journals, pp. 2904‑5, 2929).

[119] See the Twenty‑Third Report of the Standing Committee on House Management, presented to the House on February 14, 1992 (Journals, pp. 1024‑5), and concurred in on March 27, 1992 (Journals, p. 1230).

[120] The Eighty‑Third Report of the Standing Committee on House Management, presented to the House on April 2, 1993 (Journals, p. 2784), was concurred in on April 28, 1993 (Journals, p. 2873). See the Forty‑Eighth Report of the First Session of the Thirty‑Sixth Parliament, the Nineteenth, Forty‑First and Fifty‑Eighth Reports of the First Session of the Thirty‑Seventh Parliament, the Third and Forty‑Fourth Reports of the Second Session of the Thirty‑Seventh Parliament, the Second Report of the Third Session of the Thirty‑Seventh Parliament, the Fifth Report of the First Session of the Thirty‑Eighth Parliament and the Second Report of the First Session of the Thirty‑Ninth Parliament of the Standing Committee on Procedure and House Affairs, presented to the House on December 8, 1998 (Journals, p. 1424), May 16, 2001 (Journals, p. 419), December 3, 2001 (Journals, p. 893), May 24, 2002 (Journals, pp. 1425‑6), October 30, 2002 (Journals, p. 138), September 19, 2003 (Journals, p. 998), February 13, 2004 (Journals, p. 77), October 20, 2004 (Journals, p. 121), and April 27, 2006 (Journals, p. 99), respectively, and concurred in on May 16, 2001 (Journals, p. 421), December 5, 2001 (Journals, p. 921), May 24, 2002 (Journals, p. 1426), October 30, 2002 (Journals, p. 140), September 19, 2003 (Journals, p. 998), February 16, 2004 (Journals, p. 81), October 20, 2004 (Journals, p. 124), and April 27, 2006 (Journals, p. 99), respectively. It is interesting to note that the Committee’s Forty‑Eighth Report, presented to the House on December 8, 1998, was not concurred in by the House. On December 2, 1999, the report was deemed laid upon the Table in the Second Session of the Thirty‑Sixth Parliament and concurred in, for a trial period ending on June 30, 2000 (Journals, p. 268). See also Chapter 20, “Committees”.

[121] See the Nineteenth Report of the Standing Committee on Procedure and House Affairs, presented to the House and concurred in on May 16, 2001 (Journals, pp. 419, 421).

[122] See the First Report of the Special Committee on the Modernization and Improvement of the Procedures of the House of Commons, par. 51 to 53, presented to the House on June 1, 2001 (Journals, p. 465), and concurred in on October 4, 2001 (Journals, pp. 691‑3), in accordance with an Order made October 3, 2001 (Journals, p. 685).

[123] The House of Commons, in partnership with CPAC, makes its proceedings available to the Canadian public in both official languages through cable and satellite broadcasts. However, before the Canadian Radio-television and Telecommunications Commission (CRTC) strengthened the regulations on the distribution of the House of Commons debates in both official languages, cable companies could decide to broadcast just one of the audio signals. This meant that, in a number of regions, Canadians only had access to the House of Commons debates in one language or, if the cable company had decided to broadcast just the audio signal from the floor of the House, only in the language the Member was speaking at the time.

Further to complaints filed with the Commissioner of Official Languages, the Standing Joint Committee on Official Languages observed that the main issue was the manner in which CPAC was made available by cable companies. The Committee recommended to the CRTC that it require cable companies to broadcast the debates and proceedings of Parliament in both official languages. It also recommended that CPAC’s commitment to install the infrastructure enabling cable companies to adopt SAP (secondary audio program) technology be made an integral part of the agreement between the House of Commons and CPAC.

Subsequently, the CRTC amended the regulatory framework for broadcasting parliamentary debates, ensuring that they could be watched by a majority of Canadians in both official languages, by requiring cable companies to use SAP technology in distributing CPAC as part of their basic service. There are only a very few Canadian cable companies that are exempted, for purely technical reasons, from making the debates available in both official languages. To remedy the situation, CPAC and the House of Commons have signed an agreement aimed at helping these companies develop the technical capacities they need to offer parliamentary proceedings in both official languages.

Since September 1, 2003, the CPAC signal has been available in the minority official language on a separate channel in some regions, while in others television viewers with SAP technology have had access to the signal in both languages. See the Second Report of the Standing Joint Committee on Official Languages entitled “Broadcasting and availability of the debates and proceedings of Parliament in both official languages”, presented to the House on May 2, 2001 (Journals, pp. 353‑4). See also the government response to the report, tabled on September 26, 2001 (Journals, p. 637).

Furthermore, on March 22, 2005, the government directed the CRTC, by Order (SOR/2005‑60), to amend its regulatory framework to require cable companies with 2,000 or more subscribers to reserve two video channels for CPAC, one in English and one in French. The new requirement to distribute CPAC on a second channel was in addition to the existing requirement on the use of SAP technology. It is not necessary for both channels to be carried in the basic service package. However, a cable company that provides a second channel as part of its basic service in no longer required to use SAP technology.

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