Reporters and corridors. On Wednesday we reported that parliamentary press gallery reporters were annoyed that they had been asked to move on from outside the marathon party room meeting in which the Coalition decided not to change its position on same-sex marriage. Reporters tweeted that the orders to the Serjeant at Arms came from the Prime Minister’s Office, but when we asked the PMO why that order was made, we got crickets. In his role as press gallery president, Sky News political editor David Speers also followed up with the Serjeant at Arms to find out what the deal was, and received this reply from Deputy Serjeant at Arms at Arms James Catchpole, who encouraged him to share it with the press gallery:
“As you are aware, the Rules for Media Related Activity in Parliament House and its Precincts (the Media Rules) prohibit media related activity in the private corridors of the building (paragraph 4.6(f) of the Media Rules). Exceptions to this restriction may be negotiated prior to any ‘significant events’ after consultation between the Press Gallery and the Presiding Officers’ delegates (paragraph 5.8 of the Media Rules). However, I understand that you (Mr Speers) were advised by email at 3.00pm on the day by the Serjeant-at-Arms’ Office that there were no special media arrangements in place to cover the party room meeting.
A gathering of media representatives in the corridor close to a party meeting in progress is reasonably characterised as media related activity under the Media Rules, regardless of whether the representatives were filming or seeking comments at that very moment. On this basis and without any special arrangements in place your colleagues were asked to move on. In any event, anyone loitering around a party room during a meeting is routinely moved on by the Parliamentary Security Service as a security precaution, and it is expected that all parliamentary pass-holders, including media representatives, comply with these requirements.”
Speers’ reply was pointed:
”Could you please explain why an unprecedented six hour party room meeting on gay marriage was not considered a ‘significant event’? Who made this decision and on what basis? As media representatives, we are required by our employers and the public to cover these things and we have absolutely no input on these decisions that deny us the ability to do our jobs.
Secondly, can you please explain what is now ‘reasonably characterised” as media related activity? Does this prevent any group of journalists talking to anyone in any part of the building? If three journalists are speaking to a politician or staffer in a corridor, is that now in breach of the rules? I remind you MPs were happy to talk to the journalists on Tuesday night.
Thirdly, the suggestion this is a ‘security issue’ is frankly a long stretch.
Finally, could you please clarify the initial question as to whether the directive to move on the journalists came from the Prime Minister’s Office (as the Serjeant’s Office said on the night). We have also been in discussion with the Prime Minister’s Office about this aspect and we need to ensure we can trust what we’re being told by the Serjeant’s Office.”
Over the past year bollards have been erected both in and outside parliament house, and have been criticised as a safety hazard by journalists. Armed AFP officers have also started patrolling the corridors of the gallery.
Update. On Friday afternoon, the press gallery heads had a meeting with the Serjeant-at-Arms who stressed her independence and said she’d made the decision to move journalists on alone.
“We’ve been told the initial decision to deny media access to the corridor outside the party room was taken by the Serjeant after taking advice from the Whip’s office and the Prime Minister’s office,” Speers told the gallery.
“The decision after 8pm to “move on” the journalists who were outside the party room was taken by the Serjeant alone. We’ve been told it was a genuine coincidence two of the Prime Minister’s media advisors were seen in the corridor ten minutes before the order was issued.
“The Serjeant stands by her decision to order the “move on” on the grounds it was media related activity in a non-designated area without permission. The Serjeant-at-Arms is keen to stress her independence from any political influence and denies security is being used as an excuse to prevent media representatives from doing their job.
“We have clearly stated the case that media representatives have a duty to report on such things and need to be able to do our jobs professionally without having to break any rules. I think it’s fair to say there is an acceptance things could have been handled better on Tuesday.”
Will media have free-roam of Parliament the next time this happens? That remains to be seen.