The Canberra Press Gallery who are the journalists and their support staff for the major media companies are acting in a dishonest, unethical and highly likely illegal manner and undermining new media journalists from entering the inner circle of Parliament house in the same manner as they do. To do this they lie, deceive and duck and weave.
An investigation by myself with documented evidence, after I was refused a media pass, shows that the Canberra Press Gallery journalists who should be holding the government to account are just as corrupt if not more corrupt than any politician and are undermining Australia’s democracy.
This is happening in an environment where most of the main stream media companies are reducing the size of their own journalistic work forces both nationally and in Canberra which makes their actions all the more scandalous.
I came across this situation in the last couple of weeks when I tried to get a media pass for parliament house but was refused. The Canberra Press Gallery said the reason for my application being rejected is that I am not a journalist which is not supported by the evidence in any shape or form. Unsurprisingly they have refused to put this in writing.
On or about the 3rd September I phoned parliament and asked about getting a media pass for a couple of days which I knew allows journalists into the inner circle of parliament for press conferences and access to the politicians and their staff etc. I was told that the Canberra Press Gallery deal with that and I needed to ring the President Phillip Hudson from the Herald Sun. The alarm bell rang straight away as I thought that the Press Gallery would have no incentive to give me a media pass as this would create competition for themselves.
I phoned Phillip Hudson the same day and he said that he had not dealt with a situation like mine and that media passes are generally only for people who live and work in Canberra fulltime. He made no mention of any other criteria. But I was left with the view there were other options and this could be worked around. I did find it odd though, for example what about other situations like foreign press who come here. What do they do? I said I would email him when I had confirmed my visit.
On Monday the 10th of September I emailed Mr Hudson requesting a pass for the 17th and 18th of September. At 5.58pm on Wednesday the 12th I received a voicemail saying that they would not grant me a pass as I did not meet their criteria and that I could call him back to discuss further.
The voicemail was strange in that he started off saying “sorry I missed you, if you want to get back to me that’s fine” and “we’re not able to give you a press gallery pass, you at the moment do not meet our criteria” and “I am happy for you to give me a call to discuss it further” You can listen for yourself below.
The are a number of problems with the voicemail. He says “you at the moment do not meet our criteria.” He does not say what the criteria is and does not state how I have not met it. And if I do not meet the criteria “at the moment” what do I need to do to meet it? He has still not put anything in writing why I do not meet the criteria.
The voicemail starts off “sorry I missed you, if you want to get back to me that’s fine”. I had sent him an email on the Monday and had not phoned him. He is making an excuse as to why he is phoning me and not responding to the email. He also says “I am happy for you to give me a call to discuss it further”. It is common when people are doing something corrupt they always want to do it on the phone so there is not a paper trail. He also phoned me at 5.58pm that night which seemed like he was trying the go slow routine. If I did not meet the criteria he would and should have known straight away and told me so.
I assumed her had other options as he said he was happy for me to give him a call to discuss it further, but I smelt a rat. In situations like this rule number one is, always try to get it in writing, so I sent him an email that night.
The next day, Thursday, I never received a response so I called Mr Hudson sometime after 5pm as time was running out. He said I had not met the criteria because the Canberra Press Gallery Committee do not regard me as a journalist. I argued against this to a degree and Mr Hudson seemed to get agitated. I told him I would appeal and asked what the process was to appeal. He said he did not know. I asked him what legislation or act of parliament empowered him to determine who gets a pass and who does not. He said he did know and that was just the way it had been for the last 20 or 30 years. I let him know that I would be looking at appealing to the Administrative Appeals Tribunal although I did not know If I could at the time. I decided to back off and send another email which I told him I would do.
Below is the email:
From: Shane Dowling [mailto:firstname.lastname@example.org]
Sent: Thursday, 13 September 2012 9:57 PM
To: email@example.com; ‘firstname.lastname@example.org’
Subject: Federal Parliamentary Press Gallery – Press Pass rejection – Shane Dowling – Kangaroo Court of Australia
Dear Mr Hudson
I am extremely disappointed that you have rejected my application for a press pass for parliament. Your conduct of trying to discuss matters over the phone only raises suspicions to say the least. You said that the Federal Parliamentary Press Gallery had rejected my application as I do not meet the criteria set by the press gallery and that the press gallery do not regard me as a journalist. You also said that my only other alternative is if I know someone in parliament or if a politician signs me in. These are things that you could have easily have emailed yesterday or earlier. Your voicemail yesterday said I been rejected for a media pass and to contact you to discuss further. What for? There was no value in our conversation today.
As per our conversation on the phone today at 5.41PM I hereby request the following information:
- Please supply me with the names of all members of the Federal Parliamentary Press Gallery Council and their positions/titles.
- Please supply me with the written criteria that was used to reject my application.
- In our conversation today you said that you emailed other members my original email (see below) and that they had emailed you back rejecting my application based on their decision that I was not a journalist. Can you please supply me with full copies of their emails.
- Can you please supply me with a copy of all diary notes, file notes, letters, faxes and emails in regard to my application and its rejection by all council members and other involved parties.
- Can you please supply me with a copy of the relevant laws / acts that empowers you to make decisions on who is entitled to a press pass? I note on the phone you said there was none. I think you should check as there has to be something somewhere.
- You argued on the phone today that I was not a journalist but did not say why. Can you tell me exactly why I am not considered a journalist.
- Your response to my statement about Ray Finkelstein recommending that Bloggers be regulated because they are journalists was that most media had attacked his report thereby implying his report has no credibility. Can you clarify and expand on this.
Can you please reply ASAP and not try the standard go slow routine again. The credibility of the Federal Parliamentary Press Gallery is right on the line on this and I personally do not see how it can survive given its current mindset and format.
I did not expect a response to all the questions in the email but I wrote the email like that for a number of reasons. Firstly it lets him know that I am serious about appealing and given that, it puts pressure on him to at least answer the basic questions such as the criteria that needs to be met and why they do not regard me as a journalist.
I had not had a response by the following Wednesday, 19/9/12 and sent Mr Hudson a follow-up email saying: “I have not had a response to the below. I will be taking action to overturn your decision as I will be coming to Canberra again in the near future and require a press pass. I will also be publishing an article in the next couple of days in relation to the below and your prompt attention would be greatly appreciated.”
I also sent an email to the other committee members, with the exception of Andrew Meares, saying:
My application for a media pass was rejected last week. Phillip Hudson told me on the phone it was because the Canberra Press Gallery committee had decided I am not a journalist. Mr Hudson told me he had emailed my application to the committee members and that was the decision of the committee.
If possible I will be appealing this decision. I am also writing a post for my site on the media pass application process and my experience of being rejected for the media pass. You will get mentioned in my post.
I have some questions:
- On what basis did you decide that I am not a journalist? Can I have a copy of the email that you sent Mr Hudson outlining why you believe I am not a journalist?
- Mr Hudson at this stage has failed to give me anything whatsoever in writing. (See the emails in the attachment) Is this standard practice for the committee to only communicate verbally?
- I put Mr Hudson on notice that I will be appealing yet he has still failed to give me a written response. What action do you plan on taking against Phillip Hudson?
- Can you tell me what the criteria is for a media pass? What is the criteria to be judged a journalist?
I will be publishing in the next few days and as I see it the reputation of the Canberra Press Gallery committee is right on the line. This is an issue that will not go away by people sticking their heads in the sand and needs to addressed in full by the Canberra Press Gallery committee in a professional manner which it has not at this point.
If you could respond ASAP it would be greatly appreciated.
I finally did get response from Mr Hudson on Friday the 21st of September but not the other committee members:
Dear Mr Dowling,
There is nothing suspicious about contacting you on the telephone. I believe it was the quickest and most polite way to inform you of our decision and I invited you to call back as a courtesy if you had further questions.
The members of the Federal Parliamentary Press Gallery committee are as follows:
Phillip Hudson – President
David Speers – Vice President
James Massola – Secretary
Nick Haggarty – Treasurer
General committee: Gary Ramage, Andrew Meares, Mark Riley, Lauren Gianoli.
Press Gallery passes are issued to journalists, photographers, camera operators and support staff who work for media organisations based in Parliament House or journalists whose primary role is to report the proceedings of Parliament, politics and national affairs. Passes may also be issued to foreign correspondents who meet the criteria. Press Gallery membership is not available to lobbyists or political staffers.
Pass applicants must convince the Press Gallery Committee that they are genuine journalists who work for a bona fide media outlet. They will also need to satisfy the Committee that they require regular access to Parliament House in order to do their work. Freelancers must satisfy the Committee that they have a genuine outlet for any work before a pass will be issued.
We decided you did not meet this criteria to be given Press Gallery membership. As we have done since Federation, the Press Gallery Committee decides who is a member of the Press Gallery.
This does not prevent you visiting Parliament House or being signed into the private areas of the building by any pass holder.
Phillip Hudson – Press Gallery President
Nowhere does he say why my application has been rejected, just “We decided you did not meet this criteria”. In the voicemail he said “you at the moment do not meet our criteria”. So why does he not explain when I would meet te criteria? What do I have to do? Nowhere does it say what the criteria is to be regarded as a journalist. It is worth noting he does not refute that I was rejected for a media pass because they say I am not a journalist. And what is the criteria for a ”bona fide media outlet” not that it matters because he said I am not a journalist.
I have done my homework and what gives the Press Gallery the authority is standing orders or practice and procedures issued by the Speaker of the House and the President of the Senate who have joint responsibility for the management of most functions of parliament house via the Department of Parliamentary Services.
Why would Mr Hudson not know this? I will be writing to the Speaker and President and see if we can not get the issue resolved.
Am I a journalist?
The evidence says yes.
1. I have dealt with the media advisors of the Prime Minister office, the Attorney Generals office and the Federal Police etc and received answers from them that I wanted for posts that I have written. They regard me as a journalist. If the politicians are happy to deal with me then why will the Canberra Press Council not give me a press pass?
2. I have been interviewed by Media Watch which only deals with journalists and media outlets. (Click here for the post I did on the interview)
3. Prof Julian Disney, who chairs the Australian Press Council wants bloggers to sign up to his organisation. “The APC is funded by Australia’s newspaper publishers, but Disney said he hoped that “serious bloggers” would also sign up. He said: “We’ll certainly be encouraging the online only publishers to come with us.” He warned that those who chose not to join might not have access to such journalistic privileges as the shield law around sources and access to press conferences. He said: “The only penalties as it were will be that some of the protections made available for traditional journalists… where we do need some criteria. There’s a risk that if we don’t provide an opportunity for serious bloggers to be recognised as serious journalists…they will be permanently discriminated against.” (Click here to read more or watch his video interview on Mumbrella)
I am not a member of the Press Council but at this stage they do not have a category for myself as they are still working out how much they should charge for membership for small sites like mine although they plan on it in the future. But as the above shows they do regard people like myself as journalists. It is interesting that a number of people who are on the Canberra Press Council Committee who claim I am not a journalist work for News Ltd and Fairfax Media who are members of the Press Council who say I am a journalist.
4. The Government has passed shield laws that protect journalists from revealing their sources for stories. The new shield laws also protect bloggers such as myself. Why? Because we are journalists.
5. The Ray Finkelstein media report has recommended that bloggers such as myself should be regulated as much as other media because we are journalists. While I do not agree with the overall recommendation of his report I agree with him on the point that myself and others like me are journalists.
I could go on with plenty more but that will do at this stage. On the flip side a Judge in the US recently found that a blogger was not a journalist. But that is specific to that state and their particular laws. Other states in the US are different. In relation to the judgment it is worth reading a post by David Coursey who starts off: “I’ve been working as a journalist for nearly 35 of my 50+ years. Or have I? Under the rules set down by U.S. District Judge Marco A. Hernandez, perhaps I need to revise my resume. And if I do, then many other bloggers are just as out-of-business as I am.” (Click here to read more)
And for an Australian perspective a post on The Conversation titled “When does a blogger become a journalist?” which says “In Australia, federal shield law has been changed to put bloggers and journalists on an equal standing” (Click here to read more)
Crikey and the Canberra Press Gallery Committee
Back in 2007 and also it seems 2005 the online site Crikey was blocked by the Treasury Department from attending the Budget lock-up where journalists are locked up in a room with the budget before it is made public. Crikey was a holder of a press pass at the time and probably still is. The Canberra Press Gallery wrote to the Treasurer on Crikey’s behalf and said:
“We are unaware of any reasonable grounds upon which your decision is based.” and “Crikey representative Christian Kerr applied for Press Gallery membership several years ago and, after due consideration, was approved.” And
In assessing his application, the Press Gallery Committee followed the usual procedures and found he met the criteria for membership. He was issued a pass…
I further understand that the only other reason given for rejecting Crikey’s applicants is that the decision ‘is in accordance with the criteria set down by the Treasurer’.
I would be grateful if your office would provide the Press Gallery Committee with a written copy of these criteria so Gallery members may be aware of the basis upon which their applications are judged.
In the absence of any further explanation of your decision, it is difficult to avoid the conclusion that you have excluded Crikey simply because you don’t like what it publishes. (Click here to read more) and for the 2005 lock-out click here.
The questions the Crikey situation raises is it says above ”In assessing his application, the Press Gallery Committee followed the usual procedures” So what was the procedure that the Press Gallery Committee followed in my application? They never at any stage asked anything about me, my site or what I do. As per the above where it says “We are unaware of any reasonable grounds upon which your decision is based.” I am also unaware of any reasonable grounds upon which Canberra Press Gallery rejected my application for a press pass.
And were they say “I would be grateful if your office would provide the Press Gallery Committee with a written copy of these criteria so Gallery members may be aware of the basis upon which their applications are judged” Well why will they not provide me with their criteria for being a journalist? Because it does not stack up against the evidence.
And likewise “in the absence of any further explanation of your decision, it is difficult to avoid the conclusion” that the Canberra Press Gallery are corrupt and refusing to give me a press pass because they do not want more competition and in doing so are abusing their market position and power.
The committee members and their employers are :Phillip Hudson – President – News Ltd - Herald Sun David Speers – Vice President – Sky News – Host James Massola – Secretary - Fairfax Media - The Australian Financial Review Nick Haggarty – Treasurer – ABC cameraman General committee: Gary Ramage - News Limited – Photographer Andrew Meares – Fairfax Media – Photographer Mark Riley – Seven – News Editor Lauren Gianoli – 2GB - Reporter
These people are an embarrassment to themselves, the Canberra Press Gallery, the Federal Politicians and the companies they work for. They are morally and ethically bankrupt. If they had any self-respect they would resign summarily. But I would expect at least one or two will get the sack soon anyway or at least Phillip Hudson will.
Greg Jericho who publishes the blog Grog’s Gamut has written a book titled “The Rise of the Fifth Estate” and has an excerpt from the first chapter on his site which starts off:
“For as long as the media have had any say in how the news is to be provided to the public, journalists within its warm and self-protecting bosom have adopted the role of gatekeepers. This is never more the case than when it comes to the Canberra press gallery.”
“Oh, to be one of those few. Imagine the power — to be able to decide what to write, the angle, the slant, the lead. To be able to head off for dinner in Kingston or Manuka with some minister — either government or shadow — for a little off -the-record briefing (because we can safely assume that not all of those un-named ‘government sources’ are made up). Imagine being one of those who sit in the parliamentary gallery, overlooking the elected and deciding their fates. Oh, mighty Fourth Estate! Gatekeepers of the news; provider of opinions for us all!”
He is right, as my post shows the Canberra Press Gallery do see themselves as the gatekeepers for their own benefit.
Phillip Hudson and his hypocrisy
Journalist journeyman Mr Hudson wrote an opinion piece for the SMH when he worked there back in 2009 about politicians pay. He said “It’s time to overhaul the labyrinth of antiquated and unexplained rules covering pay and entitlements for MPs. No one understands the system: not the public, not the Remuneration Tribunal, and not the politicians themselves.” (Click here to read more)
I could not agree more with Mr Hudson. It’s time to overhaul the labyrinth of antiquated and unexplained rules covering the Canberra Press Gallery and how it functions under Phillip Hudson’s leadership. Mr Hudson can not explain it and he does not seem to understand it let alone anyone else. Even worse he does not seem to care. Phillip it is time for you to resign!
If I was blocked out how many others have been in the past and how many will be in the future?
One of the most important features of any democracy is having a strong and robust media holding governments and politicians to account for what they do and don’t do and say. In Canberra this is not the case. The Canberra Press Gallery are using their market power to block out other journalists which means the government are held to a lower level of accountability than would otherwise be the case.
This is a start of a battle that can and will be won. The right to block out journalists in Canberra needs to be taken off the Canberra Press Gallery and it will be. It is just a matter of time. If it requires a long drawn out battle where the names and reputations of many are destroyed than so be it. It’s their choice. The above is nothing more than round one in a twelve round slugfest if need be.
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