Margo Kingston note: I was a member of the press gallery for many years. When I left Fairfax to take Webdiary independent my Parliament House ID lapsed. I applied to the then Press Gallery Committee president Karen Middleton for a new PG ID and she signed off without a hassle.
Yet I couldn’t answer some questions from tweeps this week about the status and powers of the PGC, and was surprised by the reasons given by the current president David Speers for refusing an application by Callum Davidson to join the PG as a journo for Independent Australia. The reasons for rejection were that IA was an opinion-based publication, not news-based, and that applicants had to be established working journalists. I find the first reason odd, given IA’s intrepid investigations of the Ashby and Thomson stories, both of which have produced many news stories and news scoops, including one by me.
In addition, I confirmed with my former SMH colleague Mike Seccombe that he had been granted admission to the Press Gallery for the Global Mail, which is a feature-based publication not focussed on news. Gabrielle Chan, a member of the PG when she worked for the Oz many years ago, was also granted membership when she joined The Hoopla as an opinion and colour writer.
@walter_bagehot has kindly agreed to give us the facts on the privileges of the Press Gallery and the power and composition of the Press Gallery Committee. It seems that Callum can appeal to the PGC as a whole. Unfortunately, there appear to be no written protocols or guidelines for PGC decision making. As new media expands and the mainstream media contracts, I feel that the PGC needs to publish written guidelines and a process for appeal.
I’ve asked around for a publicly available list of press gallery members and who they work for, but there is none. I’ll tweet David Speers to see if he will make the internal list available to the public. Barry Tucker has a partial list.
If you have questions on this story, post a comment and we’ll try to get an answer for you.
Federal Parliamentary Press Gallery Briefing
By James Evans (nom de plume)
April 30th, 2013
What is the Press Gallery Committee?
The Press Gallery Committee is the governing body of the Federal Parliamentary Press Gallery.
The committee represents and negotiates on behalf of the press gallery as a whole. In this role it deals with issues that affect the whole gallery such as interactions with the Department of Parliamentary Services and the Chamber Departments, and negotiates with the political parties for election debates, although this will be managed by the Electoral Debate Commission from the 2013 election.
It also helps organise the press gallery mid-winter ball, a charity ball held in the middle of the year and open to parliamentarians, their staff, and press gallery journalists. Corporate sponsors are also allowed to purchase tickets.
The committee consists of a President, Vice-President, Secretary, Treasurer, and four general committee members.
How is the Press Gallery Committee chosen?
The committee members are elected by members of the press gallery. Elections are held annually for all positions.
Occasionally the positions are contested, other times they are elected unopposed. At elections in June 2012 the four previous office bearers (then Phillip Hudson, Herald Sun – President, David Speers, Sky News – Vice President, Nicholas Haggerty, ABC – Treasurer, James Massola, AFR – Secretary) were returned without contest. The four general committee positions were fought for by seven people.
Why does a journalist need to be a Press Gallery member?
Public areas of Parliament House, which includes the Marble Foyer, Great Hall, the Members’ Hall, and the areas between these places, are open to the public. However, strict rules on broadcasting require anyone including members of the public and press gallery journalists who wish to record or broadcast from the public areas to receive the approval of the Department of the House of Representatives and the Department of the Senate beforehand. If this approval has not been granted then Parliament House Security will direct the person performing the activity to stop.
Private areas of Parliament House encompass every other area throughout Parliament House. This includes all the courtyards, the Mural Hall (which is above the Member’s Hall), the Ministerial briefing “blue room”, most Senate and House of Representatives committee rooms, the Prime Minister’s courtyard and Ministerial and Senators and Members’ offices. Recording and broadcasting rules are relaxed in some of the private areas, such as the briefing room and Prime Minister’s courtyard, although the rules still apply in other internal areas, and some places such as corridors are meant to be off limits (this didn’t stop the cameramen in 2010 when the spill was on).
Private areas of Parliament House can only be accessed if a person is issued a Parliament House security pass.
Many of the media events held at Parliament House such as press conferences and presentations are held only in the private areas of Parliament House. If a person or journalist cannot access these private areas it limits their ability to perform a journalistic role as they will be unable to ask questions of the person holding the press conference.
Why does the Press Gallery Committee get to decide who becomes a member?
The Department of Parliamentary Services issues and manages security passes on behalf of the Presiding Officers, the Speaker of the House of Representatives and the President of the Senate.
The type of security pass issued to a person depends upon what role they have to do with the Parliament. Senators and Members, electorate staff, ministerial staff, Departmental staff, contractors, family members, volunteers, sponsored (lobbyists), and media passes are the types of pass issued.
The security policies of the Department of Parliamentary Services proscribe who can approve a security pass and for what category. For example a Senator or Member can approve passes for their staff, family members, and volunteers.
For the media, the members who can approve a security pass are the President and Vice President of the Press Gallery Committee. Decisions about whether to grant a pass are made by the committee as a whole.
Can you appeal a decision of the Press Gallery Committee about security passes?
Yes, but only to the Press Gallery Committee.
Could citizen journalists get around the Press Gallery Committee?
There is currently no viable way to avoid the Press Gallery Committee if a person or organisation wished to comprehensively report from Parliament House.
A person could report from functions which are held in the public areas of Parliament House if these are organised by a Senator or Member. They could also attend “the doors”, impromptu press conferences held with a small number of Senators and Members that are held at the Senate and House of Representatives early in the morning on parliamentary sitting days.
Senators and Members and their staff can sign in visitors to the private areas of Parliament House for a day. However this option is suitable only for interviewing a single parliamentarian, as the security pass holder who signed the visitor in is responsible for their conduct, and other parliamentarians may object to be questioned by the visitor.
Where to for citizen journalists from here
A possible, but difficult and unlikely option is to make a submission and argument to the Presiding Officers that the security policy that governs security passes should be amended to allow citizen journalists and bloggers different options to acquire a security pass. For example, a pair of Senators or Members could be allowed to approve a media pass in the same way they approve sponsored passes.
However the Presiding Officers would seek the advice of the Department of Parliamentary Services and the Chamber Departments on this proposal, and these Departments would be likely to recommend against approving the proposal on the basis that it would increase the number of people accessing the private areas of Parliament House and place greater stress upon Parliament House Security. The Department of Parliamentary Services has cracked down on the number of security passes that have been issued in the past.
Margo: the author has written under a nom de plume after giving me a valid reason. He is a university journalism student.