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TV & Radio

Nov 29, 2012

Parliament House media rules: satire in, Photoshop out

New Parliament House media guidelines have been released. It's a win for satirists (the Chaser guys are happy), but not for Photoshop fans in newspaper newsrooms.

In an historic victory for political piss-takers, comedians will be allowed to use parliamentary footage to poke fun at politicians for the first time. The change, contained in new Parliament House media guidelines released yesterday, came after a submission from Chaser member Craig Reucassel, who has railed against the ban on The Hamster Wheel and in Fairfax papers this year.

“It’s fantastic,” Reucassel told Crikey this morning. “We haven’t been able to use parliamentary footage for our entire career.”

The Chaser got around the ban earlier this year by depicting Senator Ron “pretty effective” Boswell as Jabba the Hut in a sketch. Under the new guidelines, which remove all mentions of satire and ridicule, parliamentary footage is still not allowed to be used in party political advertising or commercials. There’s a downside though, according to Reucassel: “Now we’ll have to watch Parliament more.”

He says the Chaser — backed by top-flight legal advice — would have launched a no-joke High Court challenge against the ban had it not been removed.

When the changes come into force next February, you won’t be seeing front pages like this any more:

or pictures like this:

The new parliamentary rules, issued by Speaker Anna Burke and Senate President John Hogg, include a new clause prohibiting photos of parliamentary proceedings being digitally manipulated. If media outlets break the rules, their employees can be denied access from the chamber gallery or — in extreme circumstances — have their access pass cancelled.

The move is seen as a middle finger from Labor to The Daily Telegraph, which has been hostile in its reporting on the carbon price. Seargent of Arms Robyn McClelland threatened Tele editor Paul Whittaker with “sanctions” last for breaching satire and ridicule restrictions in its “King Rat” PhotoShop efforts.

Overall, Reucassel describes the changes as “four or five steps forward and one back” for freedom of speech.

The other big change is a ban on journalists conducting impromptu interviews — or “vox pops” — with members of the public in the Parliament House precinct. In an email to press gallery members yesterday, press gallery president Phillip Hudson described the move as a “ridiculous curb on democracy at the Parliament”.

“We believe we should be allowed to approach members of the public and politely ask for an interview and if they say no we move on — the same rules that apply in any public place,” wrote Hudson, who reports for the Herald Sun. He’s hopeful the rule will be scrapped.

In an oft-flouted restriction, press gallery hacks are still banned from interviewing pollies in Parliament’s iconic Aussie’s Cafe.

In a boon for political paparazzi, the number of photographers allowed into the House of Representatives chamber has been increased from five to 20. The rarely-filled Senate quota remains at five.

According to Hudson, the less satorial members of the gallery shouldn’t be worried about a specification that ties should be worn by reporters in the House of Reps. This rule, he asserts confidently, will be changed.

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