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The limits of the applicability of new technologies to parliamentary reporting services: the case of Turkish parliament

Ayşe Yedekçi (Turkey)

The second presentation is by Ms. Ayşe Yedekçi, who is a stenographer at the Department of Minutes Services at the Grand National Assembly of Turkey.

Ms. Yedekçi discusses the working routine of the Department of Minutes Services at the Turkish parliament and the main difficulties that this department has to face in its work. Her aim is to explain why there can be limits to the applicability of new technologies to reporting services, taking the specific situation of the Turkish parliament as a case in point.

First, she briefly describes how the Minutes Services of Turkish parliament work. Reporters of the Minutes Services still use pen shorthand, stenography. They take notes in graphic shorthand during the plenary sitting. Back at their desks, they decipher and transcribe the proceedings that they captured in this way. The Minutes Services work for both the plenary sittings and the committee sittings. In the organization chart there are assistant managers for both the plenary and the committee sittings. In addition to “ordinary” stenographers, the plenary employs expert stenographers and assistant stenographers. The latter do a kind of internship at the Minutes Services. Ms. Yedekçi herself is one of the 26 assistant stenographers. There are about ten to fifteen expert stenographers, who fulfil the role of editors. The stenographers attend the plenary sitting. There can be up to four of them present at the same time, together with the assistant manager and an expert stenographer. The stenographers are seated right in the middle, between the rostrum, the chair and the seats of the MPs. This helps them to identify the speakers. Stenographers stay in the plenary for about five or ten minutes, but they swap turns every two and a half minutes. The expert stenographer stays for about half an hour in the plenary and supervises the alternation of stenographers. For regular speeches, in a normal environment without too much argument, it takes about fifteen or twenty minutes to complete the transcript. After that, the expert stenographers edit the report. When it is finished, the report is published, first on the internet and then in the Journal of Records.

Ms. Yedekçi then moves on to the core subject of her presentation, the difficulties caused by the working environment and atmosphere in Turkish parliament. In the case of regular, smooth and non-interrupted speeches, the job for the stenographers is relatively easy. Microphones capture the voice, and the stenographers can easily transcribe the audio recording with the help of their shorthand notes. However, difficulties arise when the microphone is closed, but the speaker continues to talk. The stenographers have to keep on writing, since they are expected to reflect these speeches in the minutes as well. They make a small note, stating that the microphone has been closed by the automatic device. Things get even tougher when other MPs start interrupting or talking at the same time. This often happens, and it is part of the working routine of the stenographers. It is a widespread practice that several MPs interrupt at the same time, and interruptions constitute the main difficulty for stenographers. The plenary hall is big, there are currently 40 party groups in Turkish parliament, and it can be very hard to hear what someone is saying from the seats at the back. Speakers in parliament expect to have an account of what was said very shortly after. Therefore, the stenographers have to start transcribing immediately.

The rules of procedure of Turkish parliament are succinct on the way the minutes should be made: “In the Plenary, the minutes are recorded verbatim or as summary. Verbatim minutes are recorded with the help of the voice recorder by stenographers.” For instance, the regulations do not state whether speeches made from the seats without permission should be included. Since it is legally prescribed that the report should be a full report, stenographers are expected to include in it whatever they can.

There can be moments of high tension during the proceedings, with up to ten MPs speaking at the same time, vehemently contesting what the MP on the rostrum or a minister is claiming. The stenographers must try to identify who is speaking and to understand what is being said. They have to reflect in the report everything that is going on, sometimes in a very chaotic atmosphere, with MPs getting out of their seats and crowding in front of the rostrum or the stenographers’ table. After delivering his or her speech, when the microphone is already closed, an MP may go on talking while going back to his seat. The stenographers often have to confer among them to establish in the best possible way who said what. The stenographers present have to look in different directions in order to capture what is going on in different parts of the plenary hall.

The report of the proceedings of Turkish parliament is an official legal document, and it can be used as legal evidence in court. As a consequence, the report can be crucial in determining Turkey’s agenda. It recently happened that an MP used rude language during a debate, but his words were not on the audio recording. However, the stenographers heard what he said and included the bad words in the report. When this got out, it provoked a huge public reaction, which finally resulted in the MP having to resign as the head of an investigation committee. The incident was talked about in Turkey for more than a week. It shows how critical the work of the reporters can be, and how stressful their working environment is at times.

The record of two and a half minute’s regular, uninterrupted speech takes around one and a half typescript page. However, when there is a lot of dialogue, and when the report has to reflect tension during the debate, the report of just half a minute of the proceedings may run to five or six pages, because everything has to be included.

Plenary sittings constitute by large the major part of the workload of the reporters, especially in terms of difficulty. The stenographers attend committee sittings as well. The rules of procedure of Turkish parliament say: “If the committee so decides, a full minute is recorded”. Usually, the committee decides so. In committees sittings, just one stenographer is present at a time, and he or she writes for about half an hour. The committee debates are generally calmer and easier to transcribe. However, if the atmosphere gets more tense during a committee debate, it can be even harder for the stenographer to transcribe the proceedings, since he or she is alone in the committee room, trying to capture everything that is going on.

Ms. Yedekçi draws some conclusions with respect to the applicability of new technologies to the reporting services of Turkish parliament. The difficulties that stenographers have to deal with in relation to the specific setting and working conditions in Turkish parliament, limit the feasibility of introducing new technologies in reporting services, such as instant reporting or digital audio transcription. Ms. Yedekçi does not question the importance or effectiveness of new technologies in itself, but she doubts whether pen shorthand can be abandoned under the existing conditions. Parliamentary and cultural traditions and practices, along with the rules of procedure of parliament, are also an important factor that determines whether new technologies can be adopted. For instance, in Turkey MPs or the general public, when reading the report, expect that everything, including interruptions shouted from the seats at the back, is reflected in the report.

After the presentation, Ms. Lida Horlings asks Ms. Yedekçi what the chairman is doing to maintain order in parliament. Ms. Yedekçi replies that the chair can admonish the MPs to be calmer, and sometimes suspends the sitting for a short time. Isn’t there a factor of subjectivity if reporters can choose to either include or leave out comments that they heard but that are not recorded, Ms. Horlings goes on to ask. Ms. Yedekçi replies that the stenographers are objective and have taken an oath.

The presentation slides for this presentation are available on our Downloads page.

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