Chapter 16 - Committees

Evidence gathering

Broadcasting of committee proceedings

A committee may authorise the broadcasting of its public hearings, in accordance with any rules provided by the Senate (SO 25(19)). The following order governs the broadcasting of committee proceedings:

The following rules apply in relation to broadcasting, including rebroadcasting, in sound or visual images, or in combined sound and visual images, of the proceedings of a committee.

  1. Recording and broadcasting of proceedings of a committee may occur only in accordance with the authorisation of the committee by a deliberate decision of the committee.

  2. A committee may authorise the broadcasting of only its public proceedings.

  3. A committee may determine conditions, not inconsistent with these rules, for the recording and broadcasting of its proceedings, may order that any part of its proceedings not be recorded or broadcast, and may give instructions for the observance of conditions so determined and orders so made. A committee shall report to the Senate any wilful breach of such conditions, orders or instructions.

  4. Broadcasting of committee proceedings shall be for the purpose only of making fair and accurate reports of those proceedings, and, in particular:

    1. shall not be the subject of commercial sponsorship or be used for commercial advertising; and

    2. shall not be used for election advertising.

  5. Recording and broadcasting of proceedings of a committee shall not be such as to interfere with the conduct of those proceedings.

  6. Where a committee intends to permit the broadcasting of its proceedings, a witness who is to appear in those proceedings shall be given reasonable opportunity, before appearing in the proceedings, to object to the broadcasting of the proceedings and to state the ground of the objection. The committee shall consider any such objection, having regard to the proper protection of the witness and the public interest in the proceedings, and if the committee decides to permit broadcasting of the proceedings notwithstanding the witness’ objection, the witness shall be so informed before appearing in the proceedings. (23/8/1990, J.237; incorporated in consolidated order 13/2/1997, J.1447)

Committees may impose conditions on the recording and broadcasting of their proceedings. Such conditions are usually designed to minimise disruption to the committee’s proceedings caused by intrusive lighting or movement of equipment. A discussion of this issue occurred at a supplementary hearing of Estimates Committee D in November 1993. The committee chair had received requests from three television networks to bring cameras into the hearing room to obtain coverage of a controversial issue, notwithstanding that the committee’s proceedings were being televised by the parliamentary television system and that it was standard practice for networks to take footage from the parliamentary service. The chair suggested that the networks follow this standard practice and also advised still photographers that only one photographer would be permitted into the hearing at a time, for a maximum period of five minutes each. These proposed arrangements were discussed during the hearing and a private meeting of the committee was held in which the chair’s suggestions were upheld. In conveying the committee’s decision to the hearing, the chair emphasised the distractions caused by multiple television cameras as the basis for the committee’s decision (Estimates Committee D transcript, 9/11/1993, pp D443-6). In making such decisions, committees have needed to balance the detrimental effects of potential distraction against the value of having the committees’ proceedings disseminated as widely as possible. (See Supplement)

Witnesses whose evidence is to be broadcast are given the opportunity to object. A committee considers any such objection having regard to the protection of the witness and the public interest in the proceedings. Although a committee is not required by the order of the Senate to give reasons for its decision, as a matter of practice they are given and made public. Witnesses, the vast majority of whom attend voluntarily in response to committee invitations to appear, almost never object to the televising of their evidence, but in the face of an objection, a committee must balance competing principles of open proceedings, public interest, committee effectiveness and fairness to the individual witnesses.

When considering estimates committees are covered by a provision of an order which provides:

The public proceedings of committees when considering estimates may be relayed within Parliament House and broadcast by radio and television stations in accordance with the conditions contained in paragraphs (4) and (5) of the order of the Senate relating to the broadcasting of committee proceedings, and in accordance with any further conditions, not inconsistent with the conditions contained in those paragraphs, determined by a committee in relation to the proceedings of that committee (consolidated order, 13/2/1997, J.1447).

In all other cases a deliberate committee decision is required to broadcast committee proceedings. Committees may choose, however, to pass wide-ranging resolutions covering all hearings in relation to a particular inquiry, for example. In accordance with the order of 23 August 1990, the committee must nonetheless take into account any objections to the practice by individual witnesses.

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