Parliament’s newly installed microphone system, which sparked controversy regarding how it was used, has been touted by the installation company as the most suitable for Jamaica as it is widely used in other jurisdictions.
Parliamentarians were first introduced to the $17.96-million Televic D-Cerno conference microphone system — which replaces the previous more-than-30-year-old system that was prone to malfunctions — at last Tuesday’s sitting of the House of Representatives,
At that session, then Speaker of the House Marisa Dalrymple-Philibert demonstrated its capabilities by muting the microphone of Opposition Leader Mark Golding as he attempted to question her about an Integrity Commission investigation report which revealed that she had failed to declare in her statutory filings a motor vehicle she had purchased through a concession afforded to legislators.
This resulted in Golding and the other members of the Opposition walking out of the Chamber. They expressed concern that the new system gives the Speaker the power to control who is heard, and deemed it a “slide towards autocracy”.
On Monday, during a media sensitisation session arranged by Clerk of the Houses of Parliament Valrie Curtis, managing director of Caribbean Technology Solutions Glenford McFarlane said a training session was held about half an hour before the last sitting of the House.
“Some persons were not at the training so that’s why [it seemed] some persons were surprised about the microphones,” he said.
He said that the new microphone system, which is configured in “Request to speak” mode, is widely used in other countries and is best suited for the smooth running of parliamentary sessions.
He said the Congress of Nicaragua, Senate of Colombia, Council of Bogota all use this system, and one is also to be installed in Turks and Caicos that will be configured to operate similarly.
McFarlane also pointed out that Trinidad and Tobago implemented a similar discussion solution 11 years ago, noting that most discussion solutions behave similarly or are designed to operate similarly.
“[It is the] same configuration, and they have to adapt. It was open mic season before and they have adopted and been using that mode of communication… since 2011,” he said.
He pointed out that this type of microphone system is suitable for large sessions, such as in Mexico which has a Chamber of Deputies with more than 500 microphones.
“Can you imagine if, in that space, all persons were allowed to speak at will? — 500 microphones, that would be crazy, right?” he said, pointing out that the request to speak mode works best in such scenarios.
McFarlane further explained that the technology operates in a queue system, and all delegates are allowed to press a button at the centre of the console on their desks whenever they need to request to speak.
“As soon as that button is pressed the chairman uses a button — which is called a next button — to select the next person who is queued up to speak. So, think of it almost like a line. Persons join a line to get to the front of the microphone, and the first person who enters the line is allowed to speak so that person opens the microphone by pressing the centre button. The colour will change from green to red, which means that the microphone is now active and that person can speak freely. In a case where there are too many microphones open — because in systems like these, in this case we have 78 delegate microphones — we have configured the system to allow up to four microphones to be open at a time,” he said.
He noted, however, that if all four microphones are open in the same row and there is side chatter coming into the microphone of someone who has taken the floor and is being disrupted, the chairman can temporarily mute all microphones, then people have to re-enter the queue.
In response to journalists’ question about sotto voce, off-microphone comments or cross talk which may be important to capture in a story and which may not make it to be recorded in Hansard, McFarlane said, “The beautiful thing about these microphones is that they’re extremely sensitive.”
McFarlane noted that there is no situation wherein the chairperson can control the flow of the meeting, as whoever joins the first queue will automatically be allowed to speak first. However, if only one microphone is open, it can be muted.
McFarlane also vouched for the durability of the microphones, noting that they should last for three to five years if properly maintained, stressing that the longevity of the system will depend on its use.