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Harper, Press Gallery row intensifies   

[PoliticsWatch Updated 6:15 p.m. April 13, 2006]


OTTAWA  — The battle between Prime Minister Stephen Harper and the Parliamentary Press Gallery intensified this week at a press conference where the Federal Accountability Act was unveiled. 

In a podcast, PoliticsWatch replays what happened on Tuesday when the PM tried to bypass Press Gallery reporters lined up at a microphone.  

> Listen to the podcast of the PM's press conference

Timeline of the Battle Between Harper and the Press Gallery

> January 26:
Harper chooses the foyer of the House of Commons over the National Press Theatre to hold his first press conference as PM-designate. Harper's aides say the site was selected to bookend his campaign, which was launched in the same spot. Some reporters are not comfortable with one of Harper's aides controlling the list of names of reporters who get to ask questions. 

> February 1: Harper holds a press conference to react to the Gomery inquiry's recommendations in the National Press Theatre. 

> February 6: Harper faces an open scrum with reporters on the third floor of the Centre Block after the first cabinet meeting of his new government. 

> February 7 to 20: With the controversy over some of his cabinet appointments dominating news coverage, Harper does not hold a media availability for two weeks.

> February 20: Harper holds a media availability in a small room on Parliament Hill to announce his plans to change the Supreme Court selection process. His aides again control a list of reporters with questions.

> February 20: Sandra Buckler replaces William Stairs as Harper's communication director.

> February 21: Harper holds his second news conference in as many days, this time in the foyer. Again one of his aides controls the list of names of reporters with questions. When asked if his two press conferences were a sign of a new communications strategy, Harper tersely responded, "I will be available whenever I have something to announce."

> March 1: Harper holds his third wide-ranging news conference in the foyer since becoming PM. Reporters are pleased with the amount of questions being taken and the newsworthiness of the answers Harper is providing at these events, but at the same time are still uncomfortable with his aides controlling who asks questions.

> March 7:  Harper's staff tells reporters they will no longer be allowed to wait for ministers in the third-floor Centre Block hallway outside the cabinet meeting room. His staff says Harper and his ministers will take questions a floor below in the foyer. The PMO says the reason for the change is "more space." Reporters are suspicious it will give cabinet ministers more escape routes after cabinet meetings. Harper holds his fourth press conference in the foyer with his aides controlling who asks questions. While he holds his press conference on the second floor, embattled Trade Minister David Emerson leaves the cabinet room on the third floor and faces a smaller pack of reporters.

> March 8: Parliamentary Press Gallery president Emanuelle Latraverse writes a formal letter of complaint to the PMO, saying the new restrictions on covering cabinet meetings would "roll back decades of tradition and impede the freedom of the press to have access to our country's top decision makers." 

> March 17: The Globe and Mail publishes a leaked internal government document revealing the Conservatives are deliberately restricting media access to cabinet ministers as part of their communications strategy. The decision to not allow reporters to set up outside of cabinet meetings is specifically mentioned as part of this strategy.

> March 23: Some reporters fed up with Harper's aides controling who asks questions start shouting comments and follow-up questions during a Harper press conference in Gatineau. 

> March 24: A meeting between the Parliamentary Press Gallery executive and officials from the PMO does little to settle the growing row, and raises new concerns that the PMO may hold secret cabinet meetings to circumvent House of Commons rules allowing reporters to set up outside publicly announced meetings. 

> March 27: A transcript of the meeting between the Press Gallery and the PMO communication staff is released to reporters. PoliticsWatch publishes the full transcript.

> March 28: The government holds a cabinet meeting without informing the media. Harper later defends the decision at a press conference in the foyer, saying it is within his constitutional powers. 

> March 31: A rookie B.C. Conservative MP issues an an apology after writing a letter to a local newspaper floating the idea of jailing journalists who write inaccurate or misleading news stories. 

> April 5: Harper holds a surprise scrum with reporters after a Tory caucus meeting. It is the first time in two months Harper meets the Hill media without his aides controlling who asks questions. 

> April 7: At their annual general meeting, the Press Gallery membership unanimously supports resolutions to deplore efforts by the PMO to limit access to cabinet ministers and to signal it would no longer allow PMO aides control who asks questions at press conferences. Journalists informally agree not to provide their names to Harper's aide and to instead line up at a Press Gallery microphone at news conferences.

> April 11: The Press Gallery sets up its own microphones in the foyer where Harper is scheduled to hold a news conference to launch the Federal Accountability Act. At the last minute, the PMO moves the location to a smaller room in the Centre Block. Reporters tell Harper's aide they will not be providing him their names for a list of questions. Harper delays the news conference by 20 minutes and reluctantly relents to take questions from the first two reporters in the line up. 

: Related Links

> Read the transcript from the March 24 meeting between the Press Gallery and representatives from Prime Minister Stephen Harper's Office

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