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Speaker "happy to work with media" after TV ban

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Parliamentary Speaker Vincent Tarzia says he is “quite willing to have a cordial relationship with the media” but has defended his move yesterday to evict camera crews from Question Time.

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Tarzia told parliament yesterday that he was “recently informed that members of the media intended to film from the galleries above” the House of Assembly chamber.

“At that time, I did not have any notification of that and so I respectfully advised one of the attendants that they were to leave,” he said.

“However, if any media does wish to film, I am happy to look at any request… it is certainly not a permanent ban.”

Tarzia today told InDaily his decision stemmed from an incident in State Budget week in which protesting prison guards were filmed watching Question Time from the public gallery. Filming members of the public in the gallery has been long prohibited, and Tarzia said he was aware that protesting Housing Trust tenants were attending Question Time yesterday.

“Two weeks ago, there was a violation of the rules… I had reasonable suspicion that a similar breach would occur,” he said.

“I didn’t give instruction to ban every journalist and staff member – it was specifically the videographers… I was told there may have only been one or two that went into the gallery, I would presume to film with a similar intent to what happened a couple of weeks ago.”

Chris Salter, the news director at Channel 7 – one of the networks whose crew was evicted – told InDaily: “We’re now seeking clarification on the rules surrounding filming in the public gallery.”

“There seems to be some confusion… in the interests of transparency, the media should be permitted to record its own images,” he said.

While the Opposition railed against the ban on social media, Tarzia is enforcing protocols introduced under previous Labor Speaker Michael Atkinson, which coincided with the introduction of the live parliamentary broadcast system.

Atkinson had originally relaxed restrictions of media covering parliament, including overturning a ban on filming or photographing members unless they were “on their feet” (ie speaking). However, the ban was reimposed last year when the new broadcast system went live.

At the time, Atkinson told parliament: “As the house is now providing a high resolution video feed of the proceedings of the house from our morning start to the very end of proceedings, I think that photography and filming by individuals is now unnecessary and prohibiting them does not detract from transparency or accountability.”

“That is my ruling, and signs to that effect will be erected outside the galleries accordingly,” he said.

The broadcast feed’s terms of use included the following edict:

However, Atkinson told InDaily today he did not intend the ban to prevent news media filming proceedings if they wished, and he was “surprised” camera crews stopped attending Question Time.

He suggested they should have sought dispensation to continue filming, saying: “That was my expectation.”

However, he conceded he was concerned technology had turned parliamentary coverage – particularly on social media – into a “race to the bottom”.

“My worry would have been, we’re providing a video feed – why would you send cameras down? You’re sending cameras down because you’re not happy with the video feed, and you want to take pictures of someone not on their feet,” he said.

However, when InDaily pointed out he had already allowed the filming of members “not on their feet” in 2013, he said: “I changed that because technology made it inevitable that it would be a race to the bottom, until such time as we were able to provide a video feed in accordance with the rules.

“I did that because technology necessitated it, because every member was then carrying a camera – and tiny camera – and members of the public were doing it and while there wasn’t an official feed I felt I couldn’t stand in the way of technology,” he said.

“But once, at taxpayers’ expense, we provided a feed it seemed to me unnecessary… that was a good time to draw a line under what had been a race to the bottom.

“It wasn’t my expectation that camera crews would never come… I expected them to make application and say ‘we’ll continue to come’.”

Atkinson said he had been more concerned by “members taking pictures of each other in individual circumstances, with a view to putting it on social media and ridiculing the person who’s been photographed – and that individual’s party – and by extension bringing the parliament into disrepute”.

Of yesterday’s eviction, Atkinson said: “If they were coming for the express purposes of filming a disturbance in the gallery, then Vincent is right.

“Had they done that it my time I would have tried to stop it,” he said.

Asked whether he would have imposed a ban, he said: “I couldn’t say; it’s entirely hypothetical.”

The push to broaden media access to parliament began when Jay Weatherill argued in 2013 that “the old rules are really a bit out of date” and that “there is strong support in the Labor Caucus for a change in these outdated rules”.

The Upper House has remained largely insulated from any reforms, and continues to impose its own ban on filming and photographing MPs.

Salter said in a statement that parliament’s in-house stream of proceedings “is a useful tool utilised by all broadcast media”.

“Yesterday, we attempted to record our own images of protesters in the public gallery, which were not captured on the in-house feed,” he said.

“We were promptly asked to not to film in the chamber by parliament officials. Clarification was sought from the Speaker, who confirmed the media was not permitted to record its own images in the gallery. We complied with the order.”

Tarzia said “if there are specific requests to come into parliament we’re more than willing to work with media if they have genuine requests” but that photographing or filming in the public gallery was “completely out of order – and has been for some time”.

“I’m more than happy to be cordial and work with the media for any request they have – it’s certainly not a permanent ban,” he said.

He said the parliament was working to increase transparency through broadcasting the live feed on Facebook Live, and “if there’s a specific [access] request we’ll look at it on a case by case basis”.

“I’d like to respectfully seek a balance between what they need to do and maintaining the dignity of the parliament… there’s some genuine goodwill to work with the media and work with members and I hope to continue that goodwill…

“I think it’s a bit rich for people to criticise what I think is a prudent sensible measure.”

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