NEW REPORT: Moving Online, Opening the (Virtual) Door: Public Access to Online Committee Meetings in National Parliament during Lockdown Research Report

The Womxn and Democracy Initiative and the Parliamentary Monitoring Group undertook monitoring of the information that was available regarding National Parliament committee meetings from April 2020 through to 31 March 2021 during the first year of the National State of Disaster.

The purpose of this research was to assess the extent to which parliamentary committees have complied with their obligation to be open and transparent, and to facilitate public access under the conditions of the pandemic.

Our research aimed to observe whether the challenge of the Covid-19 pandemic presented an opportunity to test if these online measures were workable for the future and could improve on the standards for openness and public access beyond the period of the pandemic and associated lockdowns. Subsequent improvements in communications and systems to increase public access that we witnessed over the second year are not addressed in detail in this report.

The information we captured included, but was not limited to, the number of days’ notice given for meetings; if links to the virtual online meetings were available ahead of time; if the meeting was live streamed online and on which platform; if the proceedings of a meeting were uploaded online after the start of the meeting; whether meetings went ahead as scheduled, were cancelled, or were closed to the public.

Recommendations made in the report predominantly relate to meeting schedules, live streaming of meetings, transparency and access to the public. Examples of recommendations include:

  1. Parliament must proactively, regularly, and widely share the committee meetings’ schedule (Z-list) on multiple public platforms.
  2. Members of the public who choose to attend must be given access to the virtual meeting - with note taken of the constitutional standards by which the public may be excluded.
  3. Parliament’s website and other online platforms must be ‘zero rated’ or free for public access.
  4. Parliament’s Rules must be amended to provide due consideration for public interest, prior notice and justification for meeting closures.

The recommendations and observations throughout the research report are applicable to the nine provincial legislatures. The detailed report can be accessed here.

 

The project is supported by funding from the European Union and the Heinrich Boell Foundation. Any views and opinions expressed in this research are those of the authors and cannot be ascribed to the European Union.

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