Prime Minister Won Battle With Parliament

Posted on Tuesday, February 06 at 12:45 by jensonj
Just before the holiday break, Mr. Harper (Calgary Southwest, Alta.) broke with the practice of avoiding the press gallery and held a news conference in the Senate foyer on Parliament Hill. Until then, the PM hadn't held a proper news conference on the Hill since May 2006, when a room full of reporters walked out of an announcement because they objected to the PM's system of selecting which reporters get to ask questions from his press secretary's list. Many reporters felt the Prime Minister's Office "cherry-picked" specific reporters and, without news conferences on the Hill, increasingly began to feel as though their opportunities to ask regular questions of the PM had dried up entirely. But since Mr. Harper's Hill news conference in December, he has held several "media availabilities" in Ottawa, taking questions from the press gallery, but only on his terms. Now the gallery is divided about whether to go on the presidential-style list system. Those who do not, don't get to ask questions, and those who do, may get selected to ask a question. Radio-Canada recently joined a number of news organizations, such as CanWest News Service, CTV and Reuters, that have opted to go on the list. The Canadian Press, The Toronto Star, The Globe and Mail, CBC, TVA and Le Devoir are staying off the list in protest. Mr. Sears said that in the U.S., in the Ronald Reagan years, the Republicans made a decision not to court the press, a "dismissive" strategy that did not seem to damage them, and perhaps it should have served as a warning that a similar strategy would emerge in Canada. The battle for control proves that the PM has other avenues to disseminate his messages, such as through the regional media and the internet, without going through the press gallery. "They've demonstrated it, and I guess the next round will be some sort of a term of ceasefire or something between the two sides, but I don't think the gallery's negotiating position will be very strong," he said. [Proofreader's note: this article was edited for spelling and typos on February 7, 2007]


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