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A man leave the Alberta Legislature on a snowy spring day in Edmonton, Alta., on May 6, 2015. (AMBER BRACKEN For The Globe and Mail)
A man leave the Alberta Legislature on a snowy spring day in Edmonton, Alta., on May 6, 2015. (AMBER BRACKEN For The Globe and Mail)

Press gallery should control access to Alberta Legislature media events: report Add to ...

A review into who should be allowed to ask questions at Alberta legislature news conferences says reporters should be the ones to make the call.

Heather Boyd, retired Western Canadian bureau chief for The Canadian Press, cautions that a reporter’s political slant or point of view shouldn’t be considered in determining access to media events.

The issue is becoming more prevalent as online outlets and social media blur distinctions between reporters and the public they serve.

“Nobody can define a journalist anymore,” Boyd said after her report was released Friday. “I suspect, over time, the rules are going to have to change.”

Boyd recommends that decisions about accreditation should be made by the legislature’s press gallery, which consists of reporters who regularly cover politics.

“This protects government from the perception of bias,” Boyd wrote in her report.

“This is not a perfect solution, and several journalists have made it clear they do not believe they should be subject in any way to control by their peers, but it appears to be the best compromise.”

The arrangement is common in other provincial legislatures as well as in the Parliamentary Press Gallery in Ottawa. It has also been the practice in the Alberta press gallery.

Questions arose last month after the NDP government refused to admit a reporter from a conservative website called The Rebel run by political commentator Ezra Levant. The event was a joint news conference with Premier Rachel Notley and Prime Minister Justin Trudeau.

The Rebel reporter said security staff told her the premier’s office had directed that The Rebel was on a “no-go” list.

Government spokespeople said there was no such list. They said the reporter was barred because she didn’t work for a journalistic outlet. They pointed to previous statements from Levant that he was a commentator, not a journalist.

The government reversed its decision after complaints from the public and members of the media.

Boyd acknowledges in her report that the Alberta press gallery told her it doesn’t have the resources to vet and police gallery applicants.

She suggests resources could be provided by the Office of the Speaker, which is independent of the legislature. Such assistance is provided in Ottawa and in Quebec’s National Assembly.

Boyd said it would be up to the gallery to ensure it maintained control.

“If you’ve got a strong press gallery and it’s interested in preserving its integrity, it would work with the Speaker to do that. It works well in Ottawa and Quebec City.”

Boyd did note that press galleries have significantly different policies about who they would accredit. Some provinces are fairly open.

In Ottawa, applicants must have journalism as their “principal occupation” and be employed by news organizations that adhere to “generally accepted journalistic principles and practices.”

Press galleries, said Boyd, know their business is changing. Many have accepted bloggers and online journalists.

“(The galleries) are flexible. They know that the world is evolving and they’re going to have to change.”

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