CAJ: Alberta Press Gallery has a duty and a right to determine access
TORONTO, Aug. 18, 2020 /CNW/ — This past Sunday, the national board of the Canadian Association of Journalists (CAJ) gathered for a regular meeting. One of our main agenda items was to discuss the recent news of the Alberta Legislative Press Gallery’s refusal to issue memberships to employees of Rebel News.
Late last week, Postmedia announced its extraordinary decision to pull its newspapers from the press gallery. While the CAJ respects their prerogative to operate their newsrooms as they see fit, we are concerned this decision could place its journalists in a difficult position to adequately serve the public.
Press galleries are independent self-regulatory bodies that have long been part of Canadian legislatures. They are recognized by the speaker 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. In 2016, the Alberta government requested a review in the wake of the controversial decision by the then NDP-led government to block access to the legislature to members of Rebel News. Heather Boyd, a former Western Canadian bureau chief for The Canadian Press, was hired to study the issue. Her subsequent report clearly outlined how individual reporters were the most appropriate arbitrators of who should (and should not) be accredited as members of the legislative press gallery. It is worth noting that Rebel News has, by its own admission, previously been denied press credentials by the Parliamentary Press Gallery.
The internet and widespread access to technology have opened the field to new players in the field of journalism, including: independent news sites, podcasters, citizen journalists, bloggers, YouTubers and others. We’ve also seen the rise of sites and organizations that mimic journalism, including: government propaganda sites, such as Ontario News Now, or Alberta’s Canadian Energy Centre; newsletters, websites, and video content produced by corporate, lobby and advocacy groups such as Progress Alberta, the Broadbent Institute’s PressProgress; and disinformation sites, such as the now defunct YellowVestGroup.com.
Press galleries may exclude lobbyists, protestors, government and corporate communications staff. They may also decide to exclude bloggers and citizen journalists, who do not engage in journalism frequently, professionally or whose actions violate a code of ethics. It’s important to vet applicants for security reasons, as they will have access to government buildings and officials.
The CAJ is not a regulatory agency and does not enforce a specific prescriptive definition of journalism. Like most in the industry, we embrace a broad definition of journalism. Much like a press gallery, the CAJ restricts our Class A membership to professional journalists and we draw upon transparent guidelines to make those decisions. The employees of Rebel News would not meet our criteria.
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