Press Gallery agrees to go on PM's
[PoliticsWatch posted 5:45 p.m. September 5, 2006]
|Prime Minister Stephen Harper
Members of the Parliamentary Press Gallery voted Tuesday to suspend
their boycott of submitting their names to staffers who run Prime
Minister Stephen Harper's press conferences.
However, the ceasefire in the ongoing battle with the PMO is only
An amendment to suspend the boycott for just 30 days narrowly passed
by two votes.
Since April, the PM has not been asked questions at press
conferences on Parliament Hill because reporters refused to submit
their names to one of Harper's press aides before press
The PM's aide would pick and choose from the list of names which
reporters asked questions at press conferences. Critics of the
protocol accused the PMO of cherry picking certain reporters and
Reporters stopped complying with the new press conference rules
initiated since the January election after voting unanimously in
favour of boycotting the list in April.
All reporters, technicians and producers who are accredited with the
Press Gallery were given the opportunity to attend and vote at
The meeting revealed that like the Liberal caucus, the PMO has
succeeded in exposing divisions within the Gallery.
The amended motion to temporarily suspend the boycott passed with 58
Gallery members supporting it, but there are still 20 members who
want to stand by the Gallery's unanimous vote in April and not
submit their names to Harper's staff.
One Hill reporter who voted against ending the boycott told PoliticsWatch she was "disgusted" and "amazed" by
"The Gallery has played right into Harper's hands," she said, adding there
are "reservations about the principled and long-term dangers of what's now
Many journalists who spoke against ending the boycott during the
two-hour meeting are concerned that agreeing to the PMO's rules is
slippery slope that will open the door to further restrictions from
the Tory government or similar vetting from opposition parties and
other groups who hold press conferences on the Hill.
The Press Gallery's boycott fell apart last month after CanWest News
informed the PMO that it was going to ignore the ban and put the
names of its reporters on the PM's list. CanWest's Ottawa bureau is
citing pressure from the editors of its 11 newspapers across the
The same day CanWest told the PMO it would submit names on the list,
the PM made a statement on softwood lumber on Parliament Hill
and did not take questions. However, he later granted an exclusive
phone interview with CanWest.
CanWest breaking the ban aside, a large number of reporters said
during the meeting the boycott was not working.
A number of problems were aired, such as cable news channels,
networks and larger newspapers bypassing the boycott by having
exclusive interviews with the PM. As well, the ban did not apply off
of the Hill. Some organizations kept the ban in place for reporters
travelling with the PM, but many had reporters ask questions out of
"Here we are the one group of people whose primary purpose in life is to ask the prime
minister questions and we were not asking him questions," one
Hill veteran who voted to end the boycott told PoliticsWatch after
"It was getting ridiculous. Huge issues of the day were floating around and we were all standing around and not asking the hard questions -- or rather not asking any
The Gallery is suspending the boycott for 30 days as an act of
"good faith" in hopes of developing a press conference
protocol with the PMO.
Members will meet again next month and it is not clear whether a
majority of Gallery members would support a permanent
suspension of the ban. There was also a discussion during the
meeting of possibly sanctioning reporters and outlets that violated
any future ban.
As an accredited news organization with the Parliamentary Press
Gallery, PoliticsWatch has one vote in the Gallery and voted in
favour of the motion to suspend the boycott. PoliticsWatch also
voted against the amendment that placed the 30-day time limit on the
At this time, PoliticsWatch has taken the editorial decision to
no longer support a boycott because it has had the unintended
consequence of benefiting larger news organizations.
Although all reporters from these organizations honoured the boycott
at press conferences on the Hill, many were granted and accepted
exclusive interviews with the PM.
Smaller organizations, such as PoliticsWatch, are thus left in a
Our readers have a right to know and we have an obligation to
© PoliticsWatch® 2006. All rights reserved. Republication
or redistribution of PoliticsWatch content, including by framing,
copying, linking or similar means, is expressly prohibited without
the prior written consent of Public Interests Research and Communications
Inc. (PIRCINC). PoliticsWatch is registered trademark of PIRCINC.