Since the beginning of 2021, parliamentary reporters in the Finnish Parliament have included the chairperson’s speaking turns between the MPs’ speeches in the official report. Previously, the chairperson’s words were reported only when the content was particularly important for the proceeding of the session. After the change to the in-house guidelines, short administrative and technical speaking interventions by the chairperson that control the flow of interaction in the session were also included in the official report. These include, as in the examples below, giving the floor to an MP (1), offering thanks for the previous speech and mentioning absent MPs in the speakers’ list (2), and dealing with technical problems (3):
- Puhemies Anu Vehviläinen: Seuraavaksi Edustaja Meri.
“Chairperson Anu Vehviläinen: Next, MP Meri.”
- Ensimmäinen varapuhemies Antti Rinne: Kiitoksia. – Edustaja Kurvinen poissa, edustaja Kalli poissa. – Edustaja Juvonen, olkaa hyvä.
“First Deputy Chairperson Antti Rinne: Thank you. MP Kurvinen absent, MP Kalli absent. MP Juvonen, please go ahead.”
- Ensimmäinen varapuhemies Antti Rinne: Nyt meillä on joku ongelma mikrofonissa, hetkinen. — Kokeilkaa puhua uudelleen.
“First Deputy Chairperson Antti Rinne: Now we have some problem with the microphone; just a moment. Try to speak again.”
These administrative and technical speaking turns by the chairperson are quite short and do not contribute to the political content of the report. However, they are quite frequent, and including them has a considerable impact on how the plenary session interaction is shown in the report. In this article, I discuss how and why the change was made and how it affects the nature of the official report of the Finnish Parliament.
From Behind the Scenes to Centre Stage
The transition to reporting the chairperson’s speech did not occur suddenly or through a single decision. Before 2011, the chairperson’s speech was reported only when it was seen as necessary for the report. These vital interventions were mostly in places where the chairperson read the formal proceedings written by the civil servants in his or her notes. The spotlight was kept solely on the official speeches by the MPs. With the chairperson, the official report focused mainly on the procedural aspects, while his or her visible administrative role in the sessions was kept more in the background.
After the election in 2011, parliamentary reporters decided to increase the visibility of the chairperson in the official report. Routine activities, such as giving the floor in an ordinary fashion to the next MP, were still edited out as unnecessary. However, many other speaking turns by the chairperson were reported, because they were seen as essential to the institutional nature of the session. These were, for example, cases where the chairperson informed MPs about the manner of proceeding during the debate.
This principle for reporting the chairperson’s speech was in effect for 10 years until the beginning of 2021, when reporters started to report the chairperson’s routine speaking turns as well. The reporters agreed on the new practice in a meeting. Before implementing the change, they asked for confirmation from the Director of Legislation and the Secretary-General of the Parliament, who agreed with the decision. This was a major shift from the traditional approach among reporters, who had previously viewed the earlier practice as an acceptable compromise to portray the role of the chairperson in the session. However, there were several reasons that prompted reporters to re-evaluate the prior principle.
Reasons for Reporting Chairperson’s Administrative Speech
The first key rationale in favor of reporting the chairperson’s speech was to simplify the existing guideline, which had been burdened with many exceptions and borderline cases. In the end, making a distinction between essential and non-essential interventions was quite difficult in practice. For example, how many “extra words” would be required in a chairperson’s turn, in addition to mentioning the name of the next speaker, to make it essential enough to report? What if the MP thanks the chairperson for giving him or her the floor – should the words giving the MP the floor be included then? Reporting everything that the chairperson says in the session is a much simpler rule with fewer exceptions.
The second and main reason to include the chairperson’s interventions was to give the reader a more accurate and reliable picture of the parliamentary interaction, with all its subtle institutional details. For example, removing the chairperson’s words in the official report seemed to unnecessarily diminish the central role that the chairperson has as the leader of the session. Also, decades of producing the official report had made it evident that it is impossible to know in advance the things the public will find interesting or important in the parliamentary sessions. Furthermore, opennesshad been a central, explicit value in the strategy of the Finnish parliamentary office for several years. To consciously exclude activities from the official report did not seem to accord to this value.
Thirdly, the guiding principle of the Finnish parliamentary reporters is always to have a clear and objective reason if something is removed from the report (see e.g. Voutilainen 2017). When the issue was discussed carefully, according to the parliamentary reporting team, there simply were no substantial arguments to exclude the chairperson’s administrative comments, aside from that being the traditional approach. This was supported by a survey conducted in 2018 among 39 member parliaments of Intersteno and the European Centre for Parliamentary Research and Documentation. Of the reporting offices that responded to the survey, 72% said that they always or most of the time report when the chairperson calls on the next MP. Reporting when the chairperson makes a technical remark about, for example, speaking more directly into the microphone was lower but still significant at 39%. On reporting other activities by the chairperson, such as notifying the MP that the time is running out (87% report these comments), interrupting the MP in order to regain order in the plenary hall (88%), or making a remark that the MP is using improper language (97%), the consensus was almost unanimous. (Voutilainen 2019.) The survey indicated that reporting the chairperson’s speech in the session was not a marginal decision – quite the opposite.
Purpose of the Official Report: A Collection of Monologues or a Transcript of Parliamentary Interaction?
For the above reasons, the official report of the Finnish Parliament now includes small, routine and technical activities by the chairperson, such as giving the floor to an MP, mentioning absent MPs who had reserved the floor, thanking MPs after their speech (MPs’ thanks to the chairperson when given the floor are also included), and making technical comments about, for example, the use of the microphone. Stylistic features in the chairperson’s speech, such as “ja”(‘and’) or “no niin”(‘okay then’) at the beginning, which were previously excluded as “mannerisms”, are often included as well. The only times a chairperson’s words are removed from the report are those rare instances when it would be incomprehensible to let them stand – for example, when the words are partially inaudible – or when the chairperson registers an MP cancelling his or her prior request for the floor (because the cancellation is also excluded from the report).
As small administrative speaking turns by the chairperson are quite frequent in the session – in fact, between every official speech – reporting them has a surprisingly big impact on the official report. Excluding these turns previously in some sense reduced the interactional situation into a collection of monologues (cf. Slembrouck 1992; also Haapanen 2017). This did not affect the content of the official speeches but impacted the view that was given to the reader about the nature of the parliamentary session as an institutional conversation. In other words, it considerably affected the chronotope of the reported session: how the sense of time and space in the communicative situation were communicated to the reader by the report (see Bakhtin 1981). Including the chairperson’s administrative and technical speech, however trivial or simple it may seem, conveys a more reliable and accurate view of this interaction to the reader.
It is important to note that what works well in the official report of one parliament does not necessarily work well in another. How an editorial decision is perceived by the reader is affected, among many other things, by the political and linguistic context and the local culture of reporting. In Finland, including a chairperson’s administrative and technical speech in the official report has had clear advantages, demonstrating that these words that may formerly have been thought of as “useless noise” are indeed essential information and add value, context and flavour for the reader.
Eero Voutilainen works as a parliamentary reporter in the Finnish Parliament. He is also Tiro’s Editor-in-Chief.
Bakhtin, M. (1981). Forms of time and of the chronotope in the novel. The Dialogic Imagination. University of Texas Press, 84–258.
Haapanen, L. (2017). Quoting Practices in Written Journalism. Helsinki University Press.
Slembrouck, S. (1992). The parliamentary Hansard ‘verbatim’ report: the written construction of spoken discourse. Language and Literature, 1(2), 101–119.
Voutilainen, E. (2017). The regulation of linguistic quality in the Finnish parliamentary verbatim reporting. CoMe: Studies on Communication and Linguistic and Cultural Mediation, 61–73.
Voutilainen, E. (2019). Linguistic and Editorial Principles in Parliamentary Reporting: An Unpublished Preliminary Report on an International Survey to Parliamentary Reporting Offices. Parliament of Finland & Intersteno Scientific Committee. Distributed to all participants in the survey. Publication is in progress.