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Interruptions in Parliamentary Reporting

John Vice (UK)

report by Michiel Haanen

Ongoing shouts of protest from the opposition, an object thrown towards the speaker by a member of the audience, a lamp falling from the ceiling or even gunshots. Every now and then speeches in parliament are rudely interrupted. The presentation of John Vice (parliamentary editor for the British House of Lords) focusses on the way these events are reflected in parliamentary reports. He gives us vivid examples from all over the world. French reporters, for instance, are not afraid to add a little personal interpretation to the report, as lines like “(MP laughs ironically)” illustrate. Lieutenant Colonel Tejero’s attempted coup in 1981 – he entered the Spanish Lower House of Representatives and fired several gun shots in the air – was elaborately commented on by Spanish reporters: “(At that moment, around 6.20 pm, after gunshots had been heard in the corridor along with shouts of “Fire! Fire!” and “Everybody down!”...)” et cetera, et cetera. In Australia during a debate an MP once strongly demanded the presence of the prime minister. An MP of the prime minister’s party mocked his colleague by bringing in a life-sized cardboard cut-out of the prime minister. General chaos was the result. In the official minutes this incident is simply referred to by the line: “The member for Canning is displaying a placard.” Before the mid-fifties descriptions like “(Great excitement)”, “(Immense confusion...)”, “(Ironical laughter)” and “(Opposition cheers)” were not uncommon in British reports. Nowadays both the throwing of manure at MP’s and ongoing shouting from the public seats during a debate on fox hunting, in the official report are simply referred to as: [Interruption], as is every type of interruption.

What is the best way to report these interruptions? In the UK one explanation for the very sober way of reporting is that interruptions are not part of the debate, thus the less attention is paid to them the better. However, the simple qualification “interruption” leaves the reader clueless about what really happened. The French and Spanish reporters are much more helpful in that regard, but John Vice wonders if their approach might encourage the occurrence of these events.

In the bygone days of the USSR a speech of one of the iconic communist leaders was interrupted by: (Tumultuous, prolonged applause ending in standing ovation). A very similar thing concluded John Vice’s presentation.

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

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