Parliament House Broadcasting tour

12 Dec

I’ve been watching Question Time since I was a young thing in the early 90s when it just appeared to be people shouting and I was left wondering when Playschool would come on. Why was I watching the Prime Minister when I could be watching John and Benita? For just as many years, I’ve wondered exactly how the proceedings at Parliament House are brought to our screen. Who puts the names up on the screen? How do they know exactly who to focus the cameras on when everything is happening so quickly? Thanks to a tour hosted by a friend who does exactly this behind the scenes work at Parliament House, my decades of wondering are now over.

We meet in the marble foyer and then head to the wing which houses the House of Representatives. Question Time has just finished and we round a totally unobvious corner in a totally obvious place and we’re suddenly in a broadcasting studio which sits directly into the House of Reps, cloaked in a one-way mirror. In my opinion, this little room has the best view in all of Parliament House. We’re on the same level as the politicians, so instead of looking down like in the public gallery, it’s like we’re right in amongst it. Such a privileged position!

The proceedings going on through the large window in front of us are reflected on tiny screens in the studio

The proceedings going on through the large window in front of us are reflected on tiny screens in the studio

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What’s of most fascination to me is a sheet of buttons designed in exactly the same way as the House of Reps is set out. The buttons move the cameras to position to the MPs who are speaking and open their mics. A studio downstairs (which we visit later) does the tweaking of the cameras to make sure they’re in the exact right position before they go live to air.

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As we head downstairs to the basement where plenty more of the broadcasting ins and outs happen, we stumble across a press conference given by none other than the new member for Fairfax, Clive Palmer.

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I later learn that there are areas in the ground in these spots for press conferences where the news stations can patch in to the broadcasting facilities through Parliament House with just a mere phone call to alert the broadcasting team.

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We head into the basement of Parliament House which is so big that there are actual streets – named streets. People don’t use the street names but I find it interesting all the same. We head down Flinders Lane to the Sound and Vision studios.

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This is the area where a good deal of the action happens. It’s where the supers (the blue box at the bottom of the screen which announces who the current speaker is) appear and the cameras are ‘tweaked’ to get in the right position. Cameras have ‘home’ positions: Camera 8 is the wide angle lens which gives the big view of what’s going on, another gets closer to the despatch box, and so on.

The screen with the red box is the images which are streaming live; the other cameras are ready to go but aren't live

The screen with the red box is the images which are streaming live; the other cameras are ready to go but aren’t live

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In another room, we see everything that’s currently streaming live over the parliamentary broadcasting system. Those holding images with recorded sunsets, trees swaying in the wind and the like – scenes from around Canberra? They were recorded by one of the broadcasting’s own staff years ago.

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We then head into the room in the basement monitoring the Senate. That tweaking I mentioned before? I see it in action here with essentially what is a little joystick which allows the camera to properly focus on the person speaking.

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When the politician who is speaking changes, things move quickly. Lots of buttons are pressed – the person manning the station briefly flicks back to the camera focused on the Speaker while he adjusts the other camera where the new person speaking to get things right in order. Once he’s satisfied, the camera goes live and the camera on the Speaker goes off. This all happens in just a few moments. That’s when the super goes on with the click of the button – and goes off in a few seconds with the same button click.

We finish the tour with a look in the Senate broadcasting room looking right into the Senate – like we started with the House of Reps. ABC Radio is in the studio – they do the live broadcasting of the Senate on Tuesdays and Wednesdays, and House of Reps on Mondays and Thursdays – and I meet one of the faces behind the voiceovers.

It’s a fun afternoon which ends all too quickly. While the magic of parliamentary broadcasting has been revealed, I find it no less incredible. The fact that we barely notice – if we notice at all – the action that brings the proceedings of Parliament to our screens is a real credit to the team there.

Date: 4 December, 2013

Cost: Free

Worthwhile factor: Highly worthwhile

Want more? Parliament House conducts regular tours. I have previously reviewed Parliament House here.

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2 Responses to “Parliament House Broadcasting tour”

  1. Heike Herrling December 13, 2013 at 12:17 pm #

    super cool post!

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  1. Coming Up in 2014 #1 | In The Taratory - January 11, 2014

    […] book a tour, or watch Question Time, or, when you’re watching TV, take the time to appreciate the magic behind bringing it to the […]

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