What are we to make of the peculiar fact that Postmedia reporters still occupy their comfortable chairs in the Canadian parliamentary press gallery in Ottawa?
A quick scroll through the national press gallery’s comparatively informative website reveals at least 10 journalists employed by Postmedia Network Canada Corp. are members of the venerable Ottawa institution — two from the Ottawa Citizen, six from the National Post in Toronto, and two designated as Postmedia employees.
This is a far cry from the halcyon days when some of Postmedia’s corporate predecessors like Southam Inc. and CanWest Global Communications Corp. permitted every one of the chain’s metropolitan dailies send a body to the nation’s capital to cover Parliament, but it’s still a fairly significant presence.
You may ask: Why is this a big deal? Wouldn’t we expect English Canada’s largest newspaper chain to occupy a few seats in Parliament’s press gallery?
Of course we would. If these were normal times, that is. But, of course, they are not.
I speak not of COVID-19 or the parlous state of the Canadian economy, but of the recent difficulties experienced by the employees of Rebel News Network Ltd., which Postmedia recently referred to in an editorial as an organization that has been “home to a succession of cranks and bigots since its inception.” It is hard to disagree with this assessment.
Nevertheless, Postmedia’s problem was not that Rebel News is “obnoxious,” as the editorial put it, but because obnoxious or not its staffers are not allowed to be members of the Alberta legislature press gallery in Edmonton.
While the rejection letter from Alberta Legislature Press Gallery Association president Tyler Dawson (a journalist employed by the National Post) did not explicitly state the reason — widely assumed to be that in the opinion of gallery members Rebel News employees work as political advocates, not journalists — it was quite clear in its intention. The applications of a couple of Rebel staffers had been rejected by the gallery’s members, Dawson said on July 27. End of story.
Postmedia was so outraged by this situation it vowed to pull all its reporters from the Alberta gallery until the situation was satisfactorily remedied and the right-wing video blog site’s reporters were ensconced in one of the gallery’s small but publicly subsidized offices in the legislature building in Edmonton.
Postmedia reporters in Edmonton may not have been happy with that decision, which emanated from the corporation’s Toronto headquarters, but it was effective immediately.
“We believe that ‘journalist’ must be defined as broadly as possible,” the editorial which ran in the National Post, the Edmonton Journal and some other Postmedia dailies, piously huffed.
Not everyone is comfortable with this. Just yesterday, the Canadian Association of Journalists gingerly argued press galleries are recognized by Canadian legislatures’ Speakers “to oversee the press accreditation process and other rules for legislative journalists.”
“Press galleries have a right and responsibility to admit as members only those who meet their standards and definitions for journalism, so long as the process is transparent and fair,” asserted the association, which does not represent all Canadian journalists.
Whether the Alberta legislature press gallery’s process is fair is a matter of opinion. No one can accuse it of being transparent.
Regardless, this brings us back to the Canadian parliamentary press gallery, which it is no secret has long rejected the membership of Rebel News employees on grounds the CAJ would most certainly approve.
But if membership for Rebel News is a principle important enough for Postmedia to pull out of the press gallery in Edmonton, why isn’t it important enough for the company to quit the press galley in Ottawa too?
I asked Kevin Libin, Postmedia’s executive editor for national political coverage, about this.
In light of the decision by the parliamentary press gallery in Ottawa not to admit Rebel News, I wondered, is Postmedia considering withdrawing from the parliamentary press gallery as well? In the event the corporation is not contemplating such a move, I said I’d sure be grateful if he could explain the reasoning.
Alas, Libin, who describes has job as being “to build out the strongest political coverage in the country, leveraging our talent and assets across the Postmedia chain,” told me all media inquiries must go through Phyllise Gelfand, Postmedia’s vice-president of communications.
I asked Gelfand the same questions and did not receive a response.
So why do Postmedia’s principles apply in Edmonton but not in Ottawa? It remains a mystery.
David Climenhaga, author of the Alberta Diary blog, is a journalist, author, journalism teacher, poet and trade union communicator who has worked in senior writing and editing positions at The Globe and Mail and the Calgary Herald. This post also appears on his blog, AlbertaPolitics.ca.
Image: Wikimedia Commons