TELEVISION AND THE
HOUSE OF COMMONS
James R. Robertson
Law and Government Division
Revised December 1998
THE DEVELOPMENT OF TELEVISION AND RADIO
EFFECT OF BROADCASTING ON THE HOUSE OF COMMONS
COOK COMMITTEE REPORT
OF THE PARLIAMENTARY CHANNEL
THE PARLIAMENTARY CHANNEL: RECENT
TELEVISION AND THE HOUSE
of the proceedings of the Canadian House of Commons began in the autumn
of 1977 after years of study and debate. At that time, the Canadian House
of Commons was a pioneer in this area, since very few legislatures were
permitting cameras to film their proceedings, except for special events.
The idea of gavel-to-gavel coverage was unique.
in over 80 countries permit some form of broadcasting of proceedings.(1) The success of the Canadian experiment
has inspired other legislative bodies to allow broadcasting, with the
House of Commons often providing the model. At the same time, many of
these legislatures have gone beyond the Canadian precedent, either because
they have learned from the Canadian experience, or because they have different
traditions, concerns or priorities.
recent years, parliamentary committees have reviewed the issue of broadcasting
and made recommendations that have led to important changes. In 1989,
the House of Commons Standing Committee on Elections, Privileges, Procedure
and Private Members Business undertook a major study of broadcasting
of Parliament. Its report, Watching the House at Work, recommended
that the rules for the broadcasting of procedures of the House of Commons
be relaxed and that electronic media be permitted to broadcast committee
proceedings. In 1991-92, the Standing Committee on House Management conducted
a study of the broadcasting of committee proceedings. Its report, which
was subsequently concurred in by the House, called for the videotaping
and broadcast of proceedings of committees meeting in a specially equipped
room, with the audio portion of all other public committee proceedings
being made available to the media and other persons on Parliament Hill.
The Committee was also successful in relaxing the rules governing camera
angles for broadcasting of House proceedings.
studies have caused Members of Parliament, the media, and the general
public to re-evaluate the role and purpose of broadcasting parliamentary
proceedings. While a small minority of people, including some Members,
still oppose the presence of television cameras, the vast majority of
Canadians accept parliamentary coverage as an important and very desirable
service, if not a right to which they are entitled. The expectations of
the public, the desire for openness in government, and the important role
that television plays in modern political life have removed this option.
is viewed as a necessary and essential part of the House of Commons. The
process whereby this enormous change occurred over such a short period
of time, and the changes it has wrought in the House of Commons and in
how Canadians perceive their elected representatives are some of the issues
that will be addressed in this paper.
OF TELEVISION AND RADIO BROADCASTING
general question of radio and television broadcasting of the Canadian
House of Commons was referred to the Standing Committee on Procedure and
Organization in 1970, following debates in the House in 1967 and 1969.
The Committees report was tabled on 30 June 1972. It was comprehensive
but somewhat cautious; the Committee summarized the arguments for and
against televising debates of the House of Commons and its committees,
and detailed the various alternatives to and inherent limitations of each.
The Committee opted for an "electronic Hansard" approach to
any televising of parliamentary proceedings; rather than journalistic
coverage, radio and television broadcasting should be a faithful record
of the proceedings and debates of the House in the same sense as is the
Official Report of Debates ("Hansard"). This fundamental recommendation
of the Committee on Procedure and Organization has been the cornerstone
of all subsequent decisions on the broadcasting activities of the House
federal general election in 1972 intervened before the recommendations
of the Standing Committee on Procedure and Organization could be considered
or implemented. Following the election, the Canadian Broadcasting Corporation
(CBC) conducted a feasibility study. Eventually, a motion was introduced
in the House by the government on 24 January 1977. In essence, the
amended terms of the motion were to approve radio and television broadcasting
of the proceedings of the House of Commons and its committees, on the
principles governing the publication of Hansard, and to establish a special
committee under the chairmanship of the Speaker to supervise its implementation.
The motion was adopted, without a recorded division, on 25 January
1977, and parliamentary broadcasting was set in motion.
on, the crucial decision was taken that the control of the system was
to remain with the House and under the direct supervision of the Speaker
acting on behalf of all Members. The actual implementation of the system
took place during the summer recess in 1977, so that broadcasting could
commence when Parliament resumed at the end of October. As there were
few precedents, the special committee was charged with making the necessary
decisions about the placement of cameras, lights, and other associated
of Parliament were concerned about the effect that television would have
on the Houses proceedings; there was, for instance, a fear that
tapes could be used out of context to embarrass a Member or to misrepresent
what went on in the House.
the outset, the guidelines regarding camera shots and so forth were word-of-mouth
and fairly loose and unrestricted. Problems soon developed, however; as
John Fraser, the current Speaker of the House, once explained it, "the
directors saw the proceedings through the eyes of experienced professionals
trained to produce good television. Like Foster Hewitt on Hockey Night
in Canada, their eyes followed the puck, an approach that did not
sit well with Members, especially when their team was scored against."
The result was that the Speaker was inundated with complaints from Members
on both sides of the House.
led to a series of changes which, while individually quite minor, collectively
created a fairly restricted broadcast format. Specifically, camera shots
of Members were generally limited to the torso and head. The cameras took
their cue from the Speaker, showing only those individuals who were formally
recognized by the Speaker and reverting to the Chair at all other times.
main object of broadcasting parliamentary debates is to give listeners
and viewers a direct and first-hand experience of Parliament at work,
as opposed to what they would otherwise receive from news reports or commentaries
prepared by journalists. Traditionally, the proceedings of Parliament
have been open to the general public, but for most Canadians, the opportunity
to sit in the galleries and watch the proceedings live is rare; television
and radio broadcasting makes parliamentary proceedings accessible to many
more people. At the same time, the broadcasting of parliamentary proceedings
assists journalists, who often use clips in their reports.
Canada, the presence of an extensive cable television system has helped
in distributing broadcasts of the House of Commons proceedings and has
made gavel-to-gavel coverage possible. The signal provided by the House
of Commons is distributed via satellite to cable companies and individual
satellite dish owners across the country. The cable companies in turn
make the parliamentary channel available to their subscribers as part
of basic cable service. Because of the widespread cabling of Canadian
households, this is an extremely efficient and effective way to make the
proceedings of the House of Commons available to most Canadians.
result is that most Canadians have the option of watching the verbatim
proceedings of the House of Commons. A small but dedicated audience watches
the proceedings on a regular basis; others tune in occasionally or watch
debates of particular interest to them.
THE EFFECT OF BROADCASTING
ON THE HOUSE OF COMMONS
to broadcast parliamentary proceedings have generally been received with
caution by politicians. The enormous importance of television in our political
system is a relatively recent phenomenon. In the early 1970s, many politicians
did not appreciate or want to encourage the role played by the electronic
media. Many Members of Parliament were not convinced that the status of
Parliament would be enhanced by broadcasting its debates. There were also
concerns that the ultimate effect might be to make Parliaments proceedings
appear mannered and trivial, that television would adversely affect the
procedures and proceedings of the House, and that Members would play to
A 1973 article,
for instance, discussed a number of issues related to the broadcasting
of Parliament: the trivializing effect of television, its visual distractions
and distortion of reality, its impact on the French-English question,
and Marshall McLuhans suggestion that television would drive home
Parliaments obsolescence. As the author of the article noted, the
fundamental questions about whether television and parliamentary proceedings
were meant for each other had seldom been addressed: "Is the nature
of television as a medium of communication compatible with the nature
of Parliament as an institution? Would television coverage of the Commons
help or hinder popular understanding of, and participation in, Canadian
experience of the Canadian House of Commons with television since 1977,
as well as the experience in other jurisdictions, may assist in answering
such questions, although little empirical study or other analysis has
been done as yet.
Canadians are critical of politicians, and dislike what they see of them
on television. Time and again, people criticize the childishness or irrelevance
of politicians, and their behaviour in the House of Commons. Many viewers
are fully aware of the tactics employed by Members (such as congregating
behind a speaker to make the House look full) and feel that such tactics
are juvenile. Whether public attitudes to federal politicians and to Parliament
have been exacerbated or not by the presence of television is difficult
to say. Criticisms may instead be attributable to the general cynicism
that the public feels about its political leaders. Faced with the prospect
of losing the parliamentary channel, however, many Canadians react strongly,
saying that it is extremely important that they be able to follow the
has affected the House of Commons in a variety of ways. The Clerk of the
House of Commons at the time of its introduction, Alistair Fraser, concluded
that many of the difficulties anticipated did not arise, or turned out
not to be as formidable as had been feared. "The concern over the
possible rush of prima donnas anxious to usurp the floor has not occurred.
Speeches remain much as they were -- neither brighter nor duller. Attendance
in the House has not increased or decreased. In general, things remain
very much as they were."(3) These sentiments were echoed
by James Jerome, the Speaker of the House at the time of the introduction
of broadcasting; he told the staff of the United States House of Representatives
Rules Committee on 29 January 1978, shortly after the introduction of
television, that he did not think that it had changed the House substantially.
"I am saying, to those who harboured any fears about what it might
do, they can relax a little because the presence of the cameras does not
change the House or its work in a very substantial way." He was,
however, aware of some changes:
I do see some
changes in style, but I think that it is quite natural. ... Members
attempting to adjust their style of debate asking or responding to questions
in order to be more effective on television. But I think that is to
be expected and in any case it is probably a change for the better.
In terms of behaviour generally and decorum, its a little too
early to see changes in that direction.(4)
of the changes have been relatively minor. The attire of Members is said
to have improved, and certain colours and clothes (such as blue shirts)
are popular because they look good on television. It has been suggested
that Members are more likely to read their speeches now. The old tradition
of thumping on desks has been replaced by more the more genteel (and more
photogenic) hand-clapping. Members must be careful not to doze off, bury
their heads in a newspaper, or have inappropriate expressions on their
face if they are near someone who is speaking.
people attribute the increased importance (and, to some, irrelevance)
of Question Period to the introduction of television. It is felt that
the constant need for a "15-second clip" or "sound bite,"
and the dramatics to which Question Period lends itself have enhanced
its visibility out of all proportion to its value. Whether such criticisms
are supported by the evidence is not entirely clear. Question Period tends
to receive considerable attention whether it is televised or not: it deals
with topical issues, consists of a dialogue of sorts rather than long
speeches, and is good political theatre. It is also the one time of the
day when the House is full, and when the party leaders are in attendance.
Moreover, most viewers, if they watch only part of the proceedings of
the House, will watch Question Period.
should be noted that the broadcasting of Parliament has greatly assisted
the news-gathering task of the media. Before the introduction of television,
most news reports relied on Members repeating their speeches or comments
outside the House of Commons. Today, it is far more likely that actual
audio-visual clips from Question Period or debates will be used in news
THE COOK COMMITTEE REPORT
1989, a consortium of cable companies and the CBC jointly proposed a new
public affairs channel to be known as CPaC (Canadian Parliamentary Channel).
This specialty cable channel would have incorporated the proceedings of
the House of Commons and committees, where available, into public affairs
programming, along with proceedings of royal commissions, inquiries, court
hearings and provincial legislatures. It precipitated a wide-ranging review
of the broadcasting of the House of Commons. After 12 years of broadcasting,
it was opportune and appropriate to re-evaluate and re-assess the experience,
and to consider possible changes.
Standing Committee on Elections, Privileges, Procedure and Private Members
Business, under the chairmanship of Chuck Cook, M.P., spent nine months
in 1989 studying the whole question of broadcasting and the House of Commons.
The Committee heard from numerous witnesses, consulted extensively, and
travelled to Washington and Toronto to see the broadcasting operations
of the U.S. Congress and Ontario Legislature respectively. The Committee
issued two interim reports, with its final report being tabled in December
the course of the Committees deliberations, a number of major issues
were identified. One of these involved the restrictions on camera angles
and shots. While some observers strongly supported retention of an "electronic
Hansard," others argued for a more flexible approach. It is safe
to say, however, that in 1977 Members would not have agreed to the introduction
of television without the safeguards inherent in an "electronic Hansard."
There were fears that training television cameras on empty seats or on
MPs in unflattering situations would not produce an accurate or positive
public perception of the House. As early as 1979, however, there was pressure,
particularly from broadcasters, for freer and more relaxed coverage, with
more wide-screen shots and other camera angles.
effect of rather stringent guidelines and policies for broadcasting parliamentary
proceedings has been criticized as being dry and stilted. The limitations
of this approach are clear, since they prevent much of the drama and atmosphere
of the House from being conveyed and many events of major interest from
being shown. At the same time, it is often pointed out that the proceedings
of the House of Commons are not designed as entertainment, nor are they
staged for the benefit of viewers. Proponents of each of the two basic
approaches -- an "electronic Hansard" or a news-orientated record
-- both have strong arguments in their favour. At the same time, it was
hoped it might be possible to achieve some compromise -- to loosen up
the existing restraints, without sacrificing the serious intent of the
its December 1989 report, the Committee concluded that the existing guidelines
for televising the House of Commons were unnecessarily strict. It felt
that so long as television does not interfere with the proceedings, or
distort the facts, there are no valid reasons for unduly restricting the
cameras. Rather than attempting to formulate detailed rules or policies,
however, the Committee recommended that responsibility be delegated to
the producers or programming directors. As professionals, these individuals
would be expected to use their judgement as to the most appropriate camera
angle or shots. Their job, as the Committee expressed it, would be to
convey the full flavour of the House of Commons, and to ensure that parliamentary
broadcasts provided a dignified and accurate reflection of the House.
was pointed out that more creative camera angles or shots could be used
very effectively to help viewers to appreciate the proceedings more fully.
Not all of these techniques would be appropriate or possible, but they
ought to be considered. For instance, split screens, wide-angle shots,
over-the-shoulder and reaction shots could be usefully employed in certain
situations. At the same time, the Committee recognized that there were
limited opportunities for different camera angles in the House. Some flexibility
in shots can be usefully employed to show the context, such as where a
Member sits in relation to others. Other techniques such as split screens
are inherently difficult to use and in fact are seldom employed even in
legislatures where they are permitted.
should be noted that the Committee anticipated that the programming director
and producers would report to the Speaker, and be subject to the overall
direction and supervision of a committee of the House of Commons (and,
through it, to the whole House). Thus, the House would continue to control
the broadcasting of its proceedings.
issue that the Committee addressed involved the broadcasting of committee
proceedings. Much of the work of Parliamentarians is done in committees,
whose importance has been greatly enhanced as a result of the procedural
reforms that grew out of the 1985 Report of the Special Committee on Reform
of the House of Commons (the McGrath Committee).
the original 1977 House of Commons motion on broadcasting provided for
radio and television coverage of committees. The special committee set
up to oversee the introduction of broadcasting, however, frankly observed
in one of its reports that the concept of an "electronic Hansard"
might not be applicable to committees. It concluded that it would be contrary
to the order of the House for any committee coverage to be undertaken
prior to consideration and authorization by the special committee. It
was noted that there would also be a problem of selection, as many committee
meetings are scheduled concurrently.
to televise committee meetings seemed to disappear for a while, but it
resurfaced in recent years. Since 1977 several committees had received
special permission for broadcasting from the House of Commons, but this
was done on a single issue basis: the Special Joint Committee on the Constitution
of Canada in 1982; the Special Joint Committee of the Senate and House
of Commons on the 1987 Constitutional Accord; the Standing Committee on
Finances hearings on the proposed Goods and Services Tax in 1989;
the Standing Committee on Communications and Cultures 1989 hearings
on certain order in council appointments to several cultural agencies;
the 1990 Special Committee on the Proposed Companion Resolution to the
Meech Lake Accord; the 1991 Special Joint Committee on the Process for
Amending the Constitution of Canada; and the 1991 Special Joint Committee
on a Renewed Canada. In all these cases, special permission of the House
was required to allow cameras into the committee rooms. As the Standing
Committee on Elections, Privileges, Procedure and Private Members
Business observed, the general consensus about these experiments has been
positive; journalists and ordinary Canadians have expressed their appreciation
at having electronic access to such committee hearings. The politicians
involved have also been favourably impressed, and further requests for
permission to televise committees have been made.
Committee recommended that each committee of the House of Commons should
determine whether any meeting or meetings would be open to the electronic
media; the committee could impose any arrangements that it deemed necessary
to ensure the decorum of the meeting. Fixed camera positions, existing
lighting and audio system and other guidelines could be imposed, so as
to respect the spirit of an "electronic Hansard" and to minimize
disruption to the meeting. Such guidelines have been successful in other
jurisdictions where legislative committees are telecast, and have been
applied to the broadcasting of the hearings of royal commissions and judicial
inquiries. Indeed, it was journalists themselves who proposed that reasonable
guidelines be imposed.
important work is carried on in committees, and the Standing Committee
felt that it was unfortunate that Canadians were denied the opportunity
to see this. Since the House of Commons is often empty because Members
are at committee meetings, it is only by being able to watch both parliamentary
and committee proceedings that Canadians can form the whole picture. It
has been suggested that one reason for the media emphasis on Question
Period is that the other work of Parliamentarians, especially committee
work, could not be broadcast.
meetings tend to be relatively informal and collegial; there was some
concern that this would change if cameras were allowed in, but the Standing
Committee felt, on the basis of the experience elsewhere, that such fears
were groundless. Question Period and other House proceedings tend to involve
government ministers, and a few other Members of Parliament, whereas televising
committee work would enable Canadians to see ordinary Members of Parliament
is interesting that in the United States Congress and other legislative
bodies the proceedings of committee meetings were allowed to be broadcast
long before those of the legislature. The print media already have the
right to attend public meetings, take notes and report on what is being
said and done. As the Standing Committees report noted, "On
the basis of equity, it is argued that the electronic media should be
entitled to use the tools of their trade."
assisting the media to gather news, it was claimed that the televising
of committee meetings would also allow Canadians to follow specific issues
or concerns; much of the work done by committees is either not reported
extensively or is summarized and filtered through the media. The CPaC
proposal would have involved the broadcasting of gavel to gavel coverage
of selected committee hearings, similar to the practice of the C-SPAN
cable channels in the U.S., which televise congressional committees. The
Special Committee on Elections, Privileges, Procedure and Private Members
Business suggested that, if funds were available, two committee rooms
should be equipped for broadcasting. Committees meeting in these rooms
would be televised as part of the CPaC programming. The Committee felt
that the chairmen of the committees would be able to sort out scheduling
and the selection of committees, but that, if they were unable to do so,
a committee of members would be able to arbitrate.
report of the Standing Committee on Elections, Privileges, Procedure and
Private Members Business was not concurred in by the House of Commons,
although a motion was passed endorsing the CPaC proposal in principle.
Meanwhile, the Standing Committee (re-named the Standing Committee on
Privileges and Elections) tabled a number of reports on various enhancements
to the parliamentary channel, including the daily re-broadcasting of House
proceedings to capture more viewers, the telecasting of informational
videos, and the provision of information about parliamentary committees.
Many of these proposals were endorsed by the House, and introduced on
an interim basis.
HOUSE MANAGEMENT COMMITTEE
11 April 1991, the House of Commons adopted amendments to the Standing
Orders. For the first time, these included provisions for committee proceedings
to be broadcast:
(1) Any committee wishing to use the facilities of the House of Commons
for the broadcasting of its meetings shall first obtain the consent
of the House thereto.
The Standing Committee on House Management shall establish, by report
to the House of Commons, experimental guidelines governing the broadcasting
of committee meetings. After concurrence by the House in such a report,
any committee may permit the presence of the electronic media at its
meetings, subject to the said guidelines.
the Standing Committee on House Management, chaired by Albert Cooper,
M.P., undertook a study and review specifically of the broadcasting of
committee proceedings in the autumn of 1991, and tabled its report in
February 1992. The Committee recommended that the audio feed of all public
committee meetings should be made available throughout Parliament Hill,
and could be recorded by the media. It was proposed that initially one
committee room should be equipped for videotaping the proceedings of all
committees meetings held there; the tapes would be made available to the
media, and broadcast as part of the parliamentary channel programming.
Committees would decide themselves if they wished a meeting to be broadcast.
If more than one committee wanted to be broadcast at the same time, the
matter would be referred to the House Leaders for a decision, and, if
they could not agree, to the House Management Committee. The recording
of committee proceedings would be undertaken by the House of Commons,
subject to the same general guidelines, rules and policies as applied
to the proceedings of the House itself. Thus, the decision was made in
favour of having gavel-to-gavel coverage, rather than allowing the electronic
media themselves to record or film committee proceedings.
House Management Committees report was concurred in by the House
of Commons, and the broadcasting of committee proceedings began on an
experimental basis in the spring of 1992. The Standing Orders of the House
were also amended to provide that the House Management Committee would
be responsible for the ongoing monitoring of the broadcasting of the proceedings
of the House and its committees.
months experience, the Committee recommended that the broadcasting
of committee proceedings be made permanent. The Committee noted that the
experience had been very successful, and that both Members and the public
were pleased with the experiment.(5) This report was concurred in by the House on
28 April 1993. The audio distribution of committee proceedings through
the parliamentary buildings also began in the spring of 1993.
In a separate
report, the Standing Committee on House Management proposed that the guidelines
for televising Question Period should be loosened somewhat to permit the
use of different and wider camera angles and thus provide a more accurate
presentation of the House. After this report had been approved by the
House on an experimental basis and the recommendations implemented, even
those who had been opposed to them were pleased with the results. The
new guidelines were later extended, and there was further experimentation
with camera angles in an effort to introduce greater flexibility to the
televising of the House, and to better convey the full flavour of its
proceedings. On 11 December 1992, the House agreed to make permanent
the new camera angles for Question Period and the taking of divisions.
The Standing Committee continues to monitor and work with the broadcasting
staff of the House "to produce a more accurate visual image of the
REGULATION OF THE PARLIAMENTARY
1977 and 1978, as an interim measure, the Canadian Radio-television and
Telecommunications Commission (CRTC) authorized cable systems to carry
the House of Commons proceedings on their special programming channels,
or community channels. At the time, the programming consisted of a videotaped
replay of earlier proceedings, except in the National Capital Region,
where it was carried live.
1979, the CBC received a temporary network licence to begin live, gavel-to-gavel
distribution of House proceedings. Subsequently, the CRTC called for applications
for a network licence. After a hearing in 1980, the CBC was issued a licence
"to carry on a network to distribute the proceedings of the House
of Commons and other programming material" in both official languages.
The CRTC specifically limited the additional material that could be broadcast,
and in fact CBC never developed the "wrap-around" programming
even to the degree envisaged in the original application.
CBCs network licences for distributing the proceedings of the House
of Commons were renewed for short periods on a number of occasions. Several
renewal hearings were scheduled, but were cancelled. Eventually, the CPaC
proposal was developed, and an application was filed with the CRTC. The
hearing of the CPaC application by the Canadian Radio-television and Telecommunications
Commission was postponed a number of times. When the CBCs licences
for the service came up for renewal, the CRTC indicated that it wanted
to deal with the CPaC proposal, or a fresh application from the CBC, within
six months. Even after the CBC announced in 1990 that it would discontinue
financing the distribution of the parliamentary channel, it continued
to hold the licences, pending a final resolution of the matter.
the enactment of a new Broadcasting Act, the CRTC issued in 1992
an exemption order for "House of Commons and provincial or territorial
legislature proceedings."(6) If certain criteria are met,
the distribution of proceedings of legislative bodies is exempt from licence
requirements of the Act.
CHANNEL: RECENT DEVELOPMENTS
29 November 1990, the President of the CBC, Mr. Gérard Veilleux, told
the Standing Committee on Privileges and Elections that due to budgetary
constraints, he would be recommending to the Corporations Board
of Directors that the CBC discontinue its funding of the expenditures
of the Parliamentary Channel as of 1 April 1991, the start of the new
fiscal year. Subsequently, on 5 December 1990, the CBC announced various
cutbacks and closures. The news release included the following statement:
"The Corporation has also indicated to the government that it is
no longer able to bear the cost of operating the English- and French-language
parliamentary channels. The government will seek the views of the Speaker
of the House and consider means of maintaining the service."
the Board of Internal Economy of the House of Commons considered a number
of options for the continued broadcasting of parliamentary proceedings.
In March 1991, the Board invited proposals from interested and qualified
parties to operate a national satellite distribution network for the daily
televised proceedings of the House of Commons. It indicated that it was
interested in receiving proposals for each of the following: the continuation
of a service similar to that being offered currently; the provision of
a reduced service; and the provision of an enhanced version of the service.
According to the Board: "A reduced service could be based on a more
economical approach to providing the service by using, for example, only
one transponder. An enhanced service could include additional non-partisan
public affairs programming during times when the House is not sitting."
The deadline for submitting proposals was 1 May 1991. The Board of Internal
Economy indicated that it would assist any accepted proposal in making
submissions to obtain a broadcast licence to operate the service and to
obtain the necessary satellite transponders.
order to avoid any interruption of the broadcast of House proceedings,
the Board entered into a one-year contract with the CBC, to continue its
operation of the service, beginning 1 April 1991. Under the new arrangement,
the CBC was asked to distribute the proceedings of the House using one
satellite transponder only. This continued to allow the distribution of
the proceedings in English and French with floor sound and sign language,
but meant the end of the televised introductions. These changes to the
format were introduced during the summer of 1991. This interim arrangement
allowed other proposals to be developed and approved. The contract with
the CBC contained an opting-out clause that allowed the House of Commons
to terminate the agreement on 90 days notice to the CBC.
1992, the House of Commons entered into a new arrangement for the distribution
of its proceedings and the proceedings of committees. A consortium of
25 cable companies formed Cable Parliamentary Channel Inc./La chaîne
parlementaire par câble inc. (CPAC). CPAC assumed responsibility for
the satellite distribution of the daily proceedings of the House and its
committees and the replays of Question Period. The House continued to
be responsible for the taping of proceedings and providing a live feed
and videotaped replays. Originally for a two-year term, it was indicated
that the arrangement would save the House of Commons the annual $2-million
cost of distributing the House signal via satellite.
new agreement granted CPAC decision-making authority with respect to the
programming on the channel, while guaranteeing that proceedings of the
House and its committees would have priority access. The contract between
the House and CPAC provided that CPAC would advise the Speaker before
making any applications to the CRTC for temporary licences to broadcast
1993 CPAC applied to the CRTC for licences "to carry on English-
and French-language satellite to cable undertakings to provide, to cable
distribution undertakings across Canada, via satellite, coverage of proceedings
of the House of Commons as well as public affairs programming." On
29 September 1993, the CRTC issued licences on an experimental basis,
expiring 30 September 1994, subject to certain conditions. CPAC proposed
that it be allowed to provide additional, complementary public affairs
programming on the parliamentary channel, including unedited coverage
of public proceedings and events of interest to all Canadians. As the
CRTC decision explained:
will originate and distribute across Canada complete coverage of public
proceedings such as royal commissions, task forces or special committees
of inquiry, federal-provincial conferences, premiers conferences,
the proceedings of federal regulatory agencies, and public proceedings
of federal and provincial political parties. CPAC will also seek co-operative
arrangements with other Canadian broadcasters, such as the Canadian
Broadcasting Corporation, and the CTV Television Network, to provide
national, full-length coverage of public affairs programming which these
services may choose not to broadcast in its entirety. In addition, CPAC
will provide national coverage of events or proceedings of national
significance that are originated by local cable companies on their community
channel. From time to time, CPAC will distribute programming produced
by agencies, such as Elections Canada, which provide information to
Canadians on the Canadian democratic process and opportunities to participate
in this process.
that the amount of public affairs programming to be broadcast on its
expanded service will vary, depending upon the availability of appropriate
events and proceedings. The applicant stressed that, in scheduling its
programming, priority will be given to the proceedings of the House
of Commons, as stipulated in its agreement with the Speaker of the House.(7)
CPAC agreed to be neutral in its coverage, concerns were expressed over
the editorial control inherent in the selection of programming. The CRTC
noted that the Broadcasting Act requires balanced programming,
and also that CPACs application had contained certain key operating
principles to which it would adhere.
a result of the CRTC licence, it is no longer necessary for CPAC to advise
or obtain the approval of the Speaker of the House of Commons for proposed
wrap-around programming. Concerns and complaints are directed to the CRTC,
rather than to the House.
CRTC licences were granted on an experimental basis to expire on 30 September
1994, and subsequently renewed for the period 1 October 1994 to 31 August
1995 in order to allow the Commission to consider the renewal of the licences
at a public hearing to be held in late 1994 or early 1995.
In January 1995,
the CRTC issued a seven-year licence to CPAC, to expire on 31 August
2002.(8) During the public hearing on the application,
numerous interventions had been received "emphasizing CPACs
contribution to the diversity of the Canadian broadcasting system by providing
Canadians with access to a wide variety of non-editorial, long form coverage
programming which would not otherwise be available, and by complementing
the journalistic public affairs programming provided by other broadcasters."
The CRTC indicated that it expected CPAC to adhere to its policy on balance,
by observing six programming principles: respecting the letter and spirit
of its agreement with the House of Commons; not presenting its own editorial
position; presenting a balance of diverse points of view; reflecting Canadas
dual linguistic nature; complementing public affairs programming provided
by other broadcasters; and being non-commercial.
1998, the House of Commons Standing Committee on Procedure and House Affairs
tabled a report in the House regarding the televising of committee proceedings.(9)
The Committee noted that a great deal of the work of Parliament is carried
out in committees, which are relatively informal, collegial and less partisan
than the House. The Report noted that the experience with committee broadcasting
since 1991 had been positive, and that it would now be appropriate to
expand the coverage of committee proceedings. Rather than suggesting that
another committee room be permanently equipped for broadcasting, the Committee
recommended a series of other measures designed to meet the long-standing
request of the Parliamentary Press Gallery and electronic media for assistance
with their news-gathering and to promote the interests of the House in
terms of informing the public and making proceedings more accessible.
recommended that there continue to be one room available for broadcasting
by the House of Commons Broadcasting Service. In addition, the House would
be able to use existing portable broadcasting equipment to tape meetings
of other committees on Parliament Hill, without the need for a House order.
These tapes would be made available to the media, and be available for
broadcast on CPAC. More significantly, it was recommended that the electronic
media be allowed, on a trial basis, to film any public committee meetings
held within the parliamentary precincts in Ottawa, subject to certain
guidelines. These included filming on a gavel-to-gavel basis, respecting
the spirit of an "electronic Hansard," with two or three cameras
in fixed positions, and using the existing lighting and sound system.
It would also be a requirement that the media deposit with the House of
Commons a copy of a complete tape of each committee meeting filmed. Members
also indicated that they expect the House and the electronic media to
provide balanced coverage of all committees, rather than focusing on only
a few. The Committee proposed that a sub-committee be appointed to oversee
and monitor the implementation of the report, and to deal with issues
and problems that might arise. The access by the electronic media to committee
meetings is to be assessed by the end of June 1999. The Committee also
urged that, in planning for the renovations on Parliament Hill, the House
be encouraged to ensure that all committee rooms are wired and cabled
so as to allow possible broadcasting in the future by the House or the
broadcasting of the House of Commons performs an important function in
enabling Canadians to see their elected representatives at work, and in
making politicians accountable to their electors. Greater flexibility
in filming the proceedings in the House has been suggested as a means
of better conveying the work and flavour of the Houses proceedings.
It remains to be seen how the broadcasting of committee proceedings will
develop. All these proposals are designed to enhance the openness of the
system, and the publics access to parliamentary proceedings.
and radio are pervasive influences in our society, and legislatures cannot
remain immune. The challenge is to use the electronic media so as to exploit
the opportunities they offer, without compromising the integrity of Parliament.
This seems to have been largely achieved in the Canadian House of Commons.
As experience accumulates, and technology develops, still further re-evaluation
and review of the broadcasting of House of Commons proceedings will be
necessary, for this is an ongoing exercise.
of Parliament. Bibliography No. 175, Broadcasting of Parliamentary
Inter-Parliamentary Union, Parliaments of the World, Second Edition,
New York, 1986, Table 27, "Broadcasting/Telecasting of Parliamentary
Debates," p. 807-831.
(2) Peter W. Johansen, "Television
Parliament: What the Commons Report Left Out," Journal of Canadian
Studies, November 1973, Vol. VIII, No. 4, p. 39-51,
at p. 40-41.
(3) Alistair Fraser, "Televising
the Canadian House of Commons," The Table, 1979, Vol. XLVII,
p. 66-71, at p. 70.
(4) Ibid., p. 71.
(5) Standing Committee on House Management,
Eighty-third Report, Minutes, Issue 53:145-147, 2 April 1993.
(6) CRTC, Public Notice 1992-6, 17 January
1992, House of Commons and Provincial or Territorial Legislature Proceedings
(7) Canadian Radio-television and
Telecommunications Commission, Decision CRTC 93-635, 29 September
1993, p. 2-3.
(8) Canadian Radio-television and
Telecommunications Commission, Decision CRTC 95-22, dated 20 January
(9) Standing Committee on Procedure
and House Affairs, Forty-eighth Report, 8 December 1998.