Q51. How does the news media work at Province House?

Reporters play a crucial role at Province House

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A51. The news media plays a crucially important role in how the legislature works. The place would be quite different if reporters were not there.

Politicians and reporters have a symbiotic relationship. They need each other. Politicians need reporters to “get the message out”. A good deal of what they do at Province House can be explained as an attempt to obtain or avoid coverage in the news media. By the same token, reporters need politicians in order to generate stories for their publication or broadcast. They are always on the hunt for new and interesting stories.

At Province House, you will often see reporters in the hallways. Sometimes it’s obvious who they are, because they’re toting cameras or microphones. Other times, you’ll know them only by their Media passes. Reporters are not allowed into the legislative chamber, but they’re free to roam elsewhere in the building. The major news outlets each have a small office in the basement of Province House, off-limits to the general public.

Reporters who regularly cover Province House have an association called the legislative press gallery. The current president is Jean Laroche, the veteran CBC reporter. The “press gallery” gets its name because some parliaments have special reserved seating—a gallery—for reporters. If you look closely at the front row of the public gallery at Province House, you’ll see a small section with built-in tables. This row is reserved for reporters.

Members of the press gallery in Nova Scotia represent media outlets such as CBC, CTV, Global TV, the Chronicle Herald, LocalXpress, Allnovascotia.com, Metro Halifax, the Halifax Examiner, News 95.7, and CP-BN (Canadian Press–Broadcast News).

The best place to see reporters at work is on the second floor, just outside the legislative chamber. This is where the action is. Every MLA going into or out of the chamber has to pass this spot, so it’s the best place for reporters and politicians to meet. They will then engage in a “scrum”, which is an informal news conference during which reporters from the press gallery surround a politician and ask questions. If a reporter wants to ask questions privately—for example, if the reporter is working on a story that they don’t want other reporters to know about—they will move away and find a quiet spot elsewhere in the building to do the interview.

More formal news conferences are usually held either in the Red Room of Province House—which is the big room on the opposite end of the second floor from the legislative chamber—or in the Media Room in One Government Place. Citizens may attend any news conference in the Red Room, but news conferences in the Media Room are restricted to reporters, government staff, politicians, and political staff. The reason for the difference is that the Media Room is a government facility, whereas Province House is operated for the benefit of all MLAs and therefore tends to be more open.

Here are the official rules, written by Communications Nova Scotia, governing access to the Media Room in One Government Place:

Upon entering One Government Place to access the media room, reporters must present a valid media pass or have a letter from their employer to confirm that they in fact work for that media outlet. Student journalists may provide a letter from their professor or the university publication they represent. Recognized online bloggers/writers have attended events in the media room, and are also recognized under the legislature’s house pass policy.

Stakeholders connected to the subject of the event are often invited to attend events in the media room. Where this is an opportunity for media to get their questions answers, key stakeholders are invited to observe the news conference, technical briefing or media availability. As per fire marshal regulations, the media room can only accommodate 50 people, therefore given reporters, MLAs, staff, and stakeholders attending, it is not open to the general public.

In my opinion, it’s disingenuous for CNS to cite fire marshal regulations as a reason for not admitting the public to the Media Room. The fact is that citizens are not welcome in the Media Room, regardless of how many people are already in it.

One of the unwritten rules of news conferences is that only reporters are permitted to ask questions. If a citizen were to ask a question to a politician in a scrum, or during a news conference in the Red Room, it is quite likely the politician would decline to answer. The reporters would also be displeased, because they know that their continued access to politicians depends partly on the orderliness of news conferences.

A note on jargon: Journalists will sometimes refer to news conferences as “press conferences” or “pressers” or “newsers”.

 

Author: Graham Steele

A former MLA in Nova Scotia, currently Professor of Business Law in the Rowe School of Business at Dalhousie University

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