Global Voices

No more photos of sleeping MPs? New rules restrict what media can cover in Tasmania Parliament

"Who do these politicians think they are? They are elected by the public, and the public is absolutely entitled to see how they behave."

Tasmania House of Assembly. Photo by Edoddridge. Source: Wikimedia Commons

Journalists and media groups are opposing the new media guidelines issued by Tasmania's House of Assembly Speaker Sue Hickey. Tasmania is an island state of Australia located south of the country’s mainland.

The nine-page document dated August 2018 details what journalists are allowed and prohibited to do while reporting inside the House of Assembly and its precincts. Media groups said the new rules undermine their work and make it almost impossible to report the proceedings in the Parliament.

Here are some of the rules that are being criticized:

  • Journalists may not linger in the vicinity of the House of Assembly Chamber, Committee Rooms, the Atrium, Ministerial offices, party rooms or individual rooms of Members and may not seek to engage members in conversation.
  • As a general rule, members of the media wishing to speak with a Member should make an appointment by telephone.
  • Photographs of divisions, disturbances within the Chamber, or unparliamentary behavior by Members are not permitted.
  • Photographs of individual Members, not speaking in debate, are not permitted.
  • Images cannot be digitally enhanced, touched up, or altered in any form.
  • Photographs taken are to be used only for the purpose of fair and accurate reports of proceedings and shall not be used for elections campaigns, satire or ridicule, and commercial advertising.
  • Photos are only permitted during the first 10 minutes of Question Time.

The Media, Entertainment & Arts Alliance, the professional association for Australia’s journalists, described the new rules as “the most egregious attack on the work of a parliamentary press gallery.”

The guidelines represent an outrageous assault on press freedom, undermine the role of the media in carrying out legitimate scrutiny of the work of the state’s elected representatives, and hinder the dissemination of news and information to the people of Tasmania.

The Mercury, a newspaper in Tasmania, also rejected the new guidelines:

…these rules are nothing more than a sneaky way for our elected officials to avoid scrutiny as they go about the job taxpayers pay them to do in the building at the centre of our democratic system.

It plans to continue ‘lingering’ in the Parliament corridors despite the new rule banning it:

We therefore plan to continue to do so in the interests of open democracy and accountability. If the Speaker plans to enforce this ban, then that is a decision that would be on her head.

On Twitter, Australian quiz personality Brydon Coverdale questioned the rule which bans the taking of photos of ‘unparliamentary behaviour’ by parliamentarians.

Speaker Hickey insisted that the guidelines her office issued are not really new and that they reflect the standard in other state parliaments. Some parliamentarians are also reportedly not happy that reporters can easily interview them in the chamber. But Hickey acknowledged the criticism against the new guidelines and vowed to consult the media about it.

Meanwhile, some journalists took photos of themselves ‘lingering’ in the Parliament corridor which is not allowed in the guidelines.

Speaker Sue reached out and assured them that her office values the work of media.

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