Press gallery should control access to Alberta legislature media events: report
EDMONTON – A review into who should be allowed to ask questions at Alberta legislature news conferences says reporters should decide for themselves.
Retired Canadian Press journalist Heather Boyd recommends that decisions about accreditation should be made by the legislature’s press gallery, which consists of reporters who regularly cover politics.
Boyd says the gallery should consider some form of administrative support from the legislature if it doesn’t have the resources to vet new applicants and enforce rules.
Questions arose last month after the NDP government refused to admit a reporter from a conservative website called The Rebel run by political commentator Ezra Levant.
The government changed its mind after complaints from the public and members of the media.
Boyd’s report found that press galleries across the country are grappling with similar issues as online outlets and social media blur old distinctions between reporters and the public they serve.
The government said it accepts the report’s recommendations.
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The report’s recommendations were:
1. Avoid developing a specific government media policy. Instead, when dealing with the media, be guided to various degrees by convention, common sense and a desire to keep access to legislative proceedings as open to as large a number of citizens as possible.
2. While wide-open access to legislative bodies may be ideal in a democracy, security concerns and the need to main a semblance of order make that impractical. The Alberta Government would be wise to follow the lead of other Canadian jurisdictions and let journalists decide questions of accreditation. This protects government from the perception of bias. This is not a perfect solution, and several journalists have made it clear they do not believe they should be subject in any way to control by their peers, but it appears to be the best compromise.
3. Anyone deciding on media accreditation and access should look to the Canadian Parliamentary Press Gallery as a general guide. It has been in existence for 150 years and has devised elaborate and carefully-thought-out mechanisms to deal with media accreditation. Those criteria are subject to regular review and the gallery executive is mindful of the need to be fair and flexible as forms of media evolve.
4. The Alberta Legislature Press Gallery says it lacks the resources to assume responsibility for day-to-day accreditation. Give serious consideration to setting up a mechanism akin to the Secretariat in Ottawa, where staff funded by the House of Commons assist the press gallery with accreditation of daily events. Funding could be made available via Alberta’s legislative assembly through the Speaker’s office – not through the government itself. Such a system could involve vetting of qualifications, security checks, and enforcement of rules and codes of conduct.
5. Press galleries across the country have denied accreditation to lobbyists and political parties. That said, media organizations and individuals should not be denied accreditation strictly on the basis of their point of view. Whoever decides on issues of accreditation must also take the evolving realities of new media into account.
6. Consider convening an annual meeting between the Alberta Speaker and the press gallery executive to discuss relevant issues and to nurture goodwill.
7. Continue to livestream news conferences, committee meetings, etc. Utilize new social media platforms as they emerge with a view to reaching as wide an audience as possible.
8. The Alberta Government should examine ways security concerns can be addressed while giving journalists easier access to the Federal Building, which is close to the legislature and frequently hosts committee and caucus meetings.
© 2016 The Canadian Press