Warning: lots of inside baseball/blog talk ahead.
Interesting little debate going on at Stephen Taylor's and elsewhere on blogging and the media, particularly on Parliament Hill. In summary:
I have a Hill pass that indicates that I have been pre-screened by security and allows me access to a variety of places in the Parliamentary district…. An official from the Press Gallery walked over and informed me that he had received "complaints" about me…. He called over a security guard to escort me from Parliament…
Now, I'm not completely unsympathetic to Taylor here. However, before I get into the issue, can I just say that I'm kind of amused with all the Conservative vitriol I read in the comments, given the "nobody cares, whiny losers" commentary we heard from these same sorts when the media was fighting their own access wars with the Conservatives? It made me smile a bit.
Anyway, as I was saying, I'm not completely unsympathetic to Stephen here. I disagree with him politically to be sure, but he takes his blogging seriously. And the media is going to have to come to grips with blogging and the new media. It's here to stay, it's not going away, and the old media are going to have to adjust. It's a new dynamic.
Now, that said, what about this particular incident? Here's a truncated rebuttal from the comments from the Gazette's Elizabeth Thompson, whose complaint apparently led to his removal:
What happened budget day had nothing to do with whether or not you are a blogger - it had everything to do with the fact that you were violating the rules that go with the pass you were wearing around your neck.This actually sounds quite reasonable. Before I was politically active I was a reporter in Ottawa and I covered Parliament Hill for a while, including a brief stint as a press gallery member. There are very specific rules about where you can go and what you can do. With my press pass, for example, I couldn't enter the lobby behind the Commons chamber, selected staffers could. The type of accreditation Stephen had is important here. Thompson is right, you can't have 308 staffers in there with cameras; the foyer just ain't that big.
Different kinds of passes entitle the wearer to different types of access. The pass you got identifying you as part of an MPs office no doubt allows you to go some places that the media are not allowed to go. On the flip side, it does not allow you to tape or videotape people in the foyer of the House of Commons. If every one of the 308 MPs sent a single staffer to tape or videotape other MPs it would be chaos - and dangerous - for MPs and the media in the foyer.
Now, it is common practice for a staffer to record their boss' interviews with a tape/digital recorder. Usually not the opposition members, but ministers always had a communications staffer with them, recording our scrum. It's so they have a record; later, if they feel they were misquoted, they have the tapes to prove it. That's happened once or twice, I believe.
I don't ever recall, however, staffers recording scrums given by a member of another party, presumably for oppo purposes. I may be mistaken, but it's never something I've seen. Listen in from a respectful distance, maybe, but not actually in the scrum or participating.
Now, from a technical perspective, there are two kinds of scrums. There are three mics set up with pool cameras, MPs can go to these if they wish and the feed is shared. In theory all parties could access the pool; however there may be legal issues about using it for partisan advertising without permission. That's been an issue lately. For a gotcha however, it'd be fair game.
Then there are the more informal scrums, just randomly in the foyer as everyone crowds around and jockeys for position. Often scrums are mobile, as the member answers a few questions as they move to the doors surrounded by the pack. Chretien rarely scrummed when I was there, and before my time, dido Mulroney. They'd stair scrum, standing halfway up the stairs to their office, if they heard a question they'd like they'd turn and answer it. These aren't accessible by the pool feed; it's everyone for themselves, although the Broadcast News footage would be available.
But back to Taylor, it all comes down in my view to his accreditation. How was he accredited? Clearly, he wasn't accredited as media through the PPG or this wouldn't be an issue. If he was accredited as a staffer or a CPC researcher, then the terms of that accreditation would be different, and commensurate with the duties of that supposed position. If his activities weren't compatible with the terms of that accreditation, his removal from the area was entirely appropriate. Staffers are staffers and media are media. You can't backdoor your way into becoming media through a staff pass.
But are bloggers media?
This is a whole other question. From the sound of his activities, it seems like he should have applied for media accreditation. Why didn't he? Because media accreditation is done by the PPG, he knows full well they'd have turned him down flat. If I went as a blogger, they'd turn me down too.
And it wouldn't have anything to do with his being a Conservative, or my being a Liberal, but rather with us both being partisans. I suspect they'd also have the same reaction though to a strictly non-partisan blogger.
While they're a little more discretionary with a day press pass, membership in the PPG is very strict. As a freelancer IIRC you need at least three regular clients, and letters from those editors attesting to the relationship. As a staff reporter, a letter from your editor. All f/t applications are considered for approval by the gallery executive.
I think some level of controlled access should be granted to bloggers, but the question is what level and who will administer it?
First, I think the number of bloggers accredited to the hill needs to be capped. Media accreditation is limited and controlled, so should it be with bloggers. Space is limited. But who governs it? If you say the PPG, they'll recoil at any partisanship. But if you say the parties should provide a list, then you're tacitly saying bloggers are political hacks.
There has to be a middle ground somewhere. A limited number of bloggers, with slots for different political persuasions and neutrals, granted limited media accreditation (foyer and press theatre access, but hot room off limits). There would need to be selection criteria to ensure they're a serious blogger. And there would need to be a code of behavior to govern blogger conduct on the Hill, in press conferences, and so forth.
We should be able to find some kind of middle ground here. But, rather than kicking-out interlopers or trying to backdoor media access through a staff pass, we need to start having the conversation.
The media govern themselves on the hill, is the answer perhaps some kind of pan-partisan Parliamentary Blogger Press Gallery?
Tuesday, April 03, 2007
Warning: lots of inside baseball/blog talk ahead.