From this week, all public hearings of select committees are being live-streamed to Parliament’s own website instead of on Facebook, a move welcomed by advocates of open government.
Shifting away from the use of the social media platform for hosting select committee live-streams was something recommended in submissions to Parliament’s regular Standing Orders review last term. While still a work in progress in terms of its functionality, the move is a first step in bringing together Parliament’s select committee and House-sitting content into the same place.
Each select committee already has its own page on Parliament’s website with information on membership and schedules among other things, and now it will also feature the latest live streamed video of public hearings. It’s a small breakthrough in the bid to make Parliament more accessible to the public, as Parliament’s Digital Lead, Winnie Nadi, explained.
“We want to make it as accessible as possible for people and as enjoyable for people to search for things and be able to filter and really understand what’s happening,” she said.
“Some of the features in the beginning will be quite basic as we test the live-streaming and make sure that it works. As we move in the next few months, we’ll have some filtering and searchable content, and it will be a lot more similar to what you can do with the House sitting stuff on our on-demand platform.”
The way Scottish and Welsh parliaments host their select committee content has provided useful models to learn from.
“We have had a lot of conversations with Scotland, with Wales, late at night, just talking about how they use their videos. We’ve noticed that we have more features in some things, and less in other things. So we’re going to continue to talk to them so that we can grab all of the good features and make sure New Zealanders have that,” Nadi said.
Committees and public interest
Select committees do much of the work in terms of applying scrutiny to government actions. So the team that facilitates the committees’ activities places much importance on the ability of the public to see and hear the work of select committees and engage with their representatives in committees.
“Often what we've experienced is that members of the public are interested in issues - they're not necessarily interested in the activity of a particular select committee. Committees tend to have lots of different issues in front of them across the portfolios that are set for them in the Standing Orders. So on one day you might be interested in something that happens to be in front of Finance & Expenditure, on another day you might be interested in an issue that's in front of the Environment committee. As a member of the public you might not necessarily know that, nor really should you have to know that in order to view the material that you're interested in,” said Clerk Assistant James Picker.
Content on select committees’ current homepages on Facebook will migrate to the Parliament website. Picker said it would be a sort of “one-stop shop” for information “about what select committees are doing and when they're doing it, where they'll be, what business they've been referred by the house and if you want to watch them for hearings of evidence and their live streams that's where you can go”.
“The search function across the website will support you to be able to find if you're interested in a particular subject then you'll be able to find the legislation that relates to it, you'll be able to find the Hansard for the (legislation) reading debates, the online video for those debates, the content from select committees, the evidence that they've heard in written form and obviously also the videos. The website will be able to support you to find all the material that's related to that particular issue.”
Facebook not for everyone
A move away from the use of the social media platform for hosting select committee live-streams was something recommended in submissions to Parliament’s regular Standing Orders review last year. Andrew Ecclestone, the Deputy chair of the New Zealand Council for Civil Liberties, said the Council had been concerned for some time about use of Facebook by government and parliament.
“There's been multiple reports of how Facebook collects personal data, how it uses that personal data and importantly how other people get access to that data in ways that are not just about advertising a new pair of shoes to you but also used for political marketing,” Ecclestone said.
“It is a platform that many people choose to avoid and yet if you wanted to watch a video of a previous select committee hearing you had to go through to the Facebook site which of course is immediately placing cookies on your computer in order to try and track you but is also begging you to sign up and create an account if you don't already have one."
“It's very good that they've shifted off using Facebook for their platform. They're now using a platform called Vimeo instead (what's used for hosting video of Parliament debates and Question Time among other business in the chamber). Vimeo is a little like YouTube but it's not bound up with so much advertising,” he noted, adding however that the Vimeo platform was limited in searchability.
Ecclestone said the Welsh model was something New Zealand could benefit from emulating.
"The Welsh Assembly not only publishes in a very well organised manner - the agenda and the papers for each select committee meeting - but they also with the video platform break it up into chunks for individual submitters, individual witnesses before the committee and it's linked to a comprehensive Hansard record which in Wales is produced bilingually."