Stay out of decisions about who covers Alberta legislature, government told

The Alberta government should stay out of decisions about who should be allowed to cover press conferences, veteran journalist Heather Boyd has concluded.

'No circumstances' where government should decide who gets to ask questions, report says

Members of the Alberta legislature press gallery await the start of a news conference. (Terry Reith/CBC News )

The Alberta government should stay out of decisions about who should be allowed to cover press conferences, veteran journalist Heather Boyd has concluded.

Boyd, the retired Western Canada bureau chief for the Canadian Press, said that decision should be left to journalists to protect governments from the "perceptions of bias."

"This is not a perfect solution, and several journalists have made it clear they do not believe they should be subject in any way to control by their peers, but it appears to be the best compromise.," Boyd said in a report released Friday.

The report was commissioned by the government after it faced an intense backlash over banning Rebel Media from an event with Prime Minister Justin Trudeau and Premier Rachel Notley last month. The government reversed the ban the next day and hired Boyd to prepare a report. 

Boyd said she found those she interviewed had differing opinions on who should be allowed into news conferences.

But most agreed on one thing, she said: "There are no circumstances whatsoever under which a government should decide who gets to ask it questions."

Ezra Levant, the controversial former lawyer who owns and operates Rebel Media, is not pleased with Boyd's findings.

In a post to The Rebel website, Levant says she has given Notley two ways to ban reporters from his outlet. That will occur "by setting up a cartel of existing journalists to keep out new competitors like The Rebel; and an audacious scheme to funnel government funding to this cartel, to do Notley's 'vetting' for her," Levant says.

"Both schemes are unconstitutional. Notley cannot directly ban journalists she doesn't like; and she cannot ban us indirectly, either."

The Albert government hired retired journalist Heather Boyd to write the report after backlash over banning reporters from Rebel Media, the outlet owned by Ezra Levant (above). (Pawel Dwulit/Canadian Press)

Speaker's office could help 

Boyd says the parliamentary press gallery in Ottawa provides the best guide, as they have policies and procedures for dealing with accreditation.

However, the Alberta legislature press gallery says it lacks the resources to handle accreditation, so Boyd suggests the government set up something similar to the secretariat in Ottawa, which has paid staff that helps the press gallery with accreditation. 

Boyd says the Speaker's office, which comes under the umbrella of the Alberta legislative assembly, could help with vetting, security checks and enforcement of rules and codes of conduct.

"If the Speaker's office, which has staff already, provides logistical support to them that should be a fairly good compromise," Boyd said in an interview with CBC News. 

Boyd's report doesn't touch on the issue of whether the government was wrong to ban Rebel Media. She says that was outside the terms of reference for her report. 

Instead, she says her report offers the first survey of all the press galleries in the country and their respective constitutions, where available. She also tackles some larger questions. 

"Who should be able to ask questions of a government?" Boyd asked. "How do you have in a democracy as much free access as you can while still preserving a sense of decorum and frankly making sure the assemblies are secure?"

The government has accepted all eight of Boyd's recommendations, according to a news release from the premier's office.  It will work to implement them with the legislature press gallery, the Speaker's office and Alberta legislature security.


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