Monday, February 23, 2015

Canadian Political Reporting Suffers Another Blow

But this time, the blow comes from within.

Thanks to Ed Tanas for bringing the following to my attention:
Ottawa reporters, photographers and cameramen face expulsion from Parliament Hill on the complaint of any politician or federal employee, with grievances to be heard at closed-door disciplinary hearings. The unprecedented measures are proposed by the Parliamentary Press Gallery, a volunteer group representing media.

“We thought we’d bring the proposal,” said Laura Payton, Gallery president, a CBC writer; “We’re leaving it quite open because the executive needs some discretion.”
On first blush, the proposals might seem reasonable, given the prevalence of harassment claims these past many months:
Under proposed amendments, members may be expelled for a range of new offences including:

•“personal harassment”;
•“sexual harassment”;
•“threats of violence”;
•“a criminal offence that was or could have been tried by way of indictment and for which the member has been found guilty”.
But, as the hackneyed saying goes, the devil is in the details. Perhaps the most telling detail:
The Gallery proposed to amend its own constitution, with the approval of Industry Minister James Moore, [emphasis mine]to suspend or banish media from Parliament Hill for a range of new offences including “harassment” and “intimidation”.
A reasonable person will immediately see that any involvement, let alone approval, of a politician cannot bode well for freedom of the press. Consider, for example, Herr Harper's recent inflammatory remarks about Radio Canada employees hating conservative values. Consider his government's egregious contempt for the media and the fact that the only time Harper seems even remotely accessible is when he is outside the country. Consider the fact that we are groaning under the most vindictive and paranoid prime minister this country has ever known.

So what do the experts think of these proposed amendments?
“The press should be held to account, but is this the instrument?” said Prof. Sean Holman, of Mount Royal University’s school of journalism. “I think it’s open to abuse.” Holman, a former member of the British Columbia Press Gallery, said he was unaware of any Canadian gallery with such an enforcement code.

“Reporters covering legislatures are often treated like parasites and barely tolerated by the administration,” Holman said. “The administration has enormous power. We should really think about that. How is it that this space that is supposed to be a public space is so often treated as anything but? That is troubling.”
Especially worrisome is the readiness with which the Press Gallery will cede authority to the politicians it is charged with covering:
The amendment also states the Gallery may defer to “House administration” if complaints against a journalist are deemed a “security concern”. The head of House administration is Conservative MP Andrew Scheer (Regina-Qu’Appelle), Speaker of the House of Commons.

In the past, parliamentary journalists never deferred to the Speaker and operated as a self-regulating association in a custom dating from 1867, noted Mark Bourrie, a 21-year gallery member and author of the bestseller Kill The Messenger: Stephen Harper’s Assault On Your Right To Know.
I am completely dumbfounded by this development. The amendments go to a membership vote February 27. Let us hope that they will act accordingly against this unprecedented assault on their independence.


  1. Who are you kidding, Lorne? That bunch showed themselves utterly spineless when they sat by with barely a whimper as Harper herded the public service behind his curtain of secrecy. They're whipped and tamed and bloody useless.\

    Things used to be different. I worked with a guy, Jack Derouin. He actually got into a shoving match with Pierre Trudeau atop a ski hill and there was no grovelling apology forthcoming nor did he lose his desk in the press gallery. Trudeau, by the way, gave as good as he got. Ah, the days when ships were made of oak and men were made of iron.

    1. But to be so openly and egregiously subservient to politicians, Mound? If reporters support this proposal, clearly they will have completely capitulated to Harper Inc.

  2. Ed Tanas brought what to your attention? The stunned dumbass who is too stupid to actually read an article spammed the twitterverse saying the subject of the article was the creation of Ms. Payton ("shame on Laura Payton for creating...") and was too stupid to see Payton said quite clearly in her feed the subject had nothing to do with the government.

    1. I don't quite get your point, Anon, given that the proposal delivers many complaints into the hands of government. How is this not empowering the Harper cabal?