Press shuts down blogger

A couple of weeks ago, I headed down the street to Parliament Hill to cover the budget for my blog and for Blogging Tories. You can see the product of that effort here, here, here, and here. I have a Hill pass that indicates that I have been pre-screened by security and allows me access to a variety of places in the Parliamentary district. While hovering on the periphery of a budget-day scrum with Jack Layton, I was spotted by Elizabeth Thompson of the Montreal Gazette. She scolded me and expressed to this lowly blogger that he wasn’t allowed to scrum with Layton. Largely ignoring her, I continued to mind my own business and started to needlessly check my camera settings. Thompson alerted Parliamentary Press Gallery President Richard Brennan to my presence and minutes later, security asked me to leave the foyer area.

I left the hallway outside of the foyer and walked over to the railway room to interview some ‘stakeholders’ of the budget. This went off without incident and during that time, I cheerfully chatted with some reporters that were in the same room.

Having completed my interviews with the stakeholders, I left and headed on over to the Rotunda where I had a friendly chat with Jack Layton. Elizabeth May and her assistant were also hanging around chatting when I saw Gilles Duceppe of the Bloc walk by. Having heard that his party was the lone opposition party supporting the budget, I asked him for an interview. He agreed. After the interview something ugly happened.

An official from the Press Gallery walked over and informed me that he had received “complaints” about me. “Thompson?” I inquired. “Complaints”, he seemed to acknowledge. I pointed out that we were currently in the Rotunda of Parliament and that my pass allowed me to be there. “But you have a camera” he informed me. He called over a security guard to escort me from Parliament.

Unbelievable!

Yes, the Parliamentary Press Gallery, with no powers granted to it by constitution or statute, used security to remove somebody who had the right to be present on the Hill granted to him by the Speaker of the House.

A similar incident happened recently when two female staffers from the Conservative Resource Group were similarly removed from the Hill by security when the Liberals complained to the Gallery.

After the incident, the Prime Ministers office called the sergeant-at-arms (who works on behalf of the Speaker on Hill security) and was told that the Gallery and Liberals were wrong to ask for the ouster of the CRG staff from Dion scrums (and scrums in general).

Of course, this brings up a few questions. If security on the Hill is the responsibility of the Speaker, and if I have been granted access to most non-privileged areas of the Hill by the Speaker, what authority does an official of the PPG have in calling in the guard to have me removed from perhaps the most public area of the Hill? Elizabeth May was also present in the Rotunda, yet she is not an elected member, nor is she associated with an elected party in Parliament. She has also been granted security clearance to the Hill by the Speaker. So, is it the camera? What is so offensive about my camera? Since I am cleared to be present on the Hill, is it because I haven’t been cleared to use one of the Press Guild’s many tools? Would May be ejected by the Gallery if she was in possession of a camera? What if I am invited by a politician to use my camera on the Hill? Is this forbidden? Was this interview with Jack Layton in the NDP leader’s office violating some unwritten rule of the media powers that be? Does the CRG/Dion Hill incident (and the aftermath) set a precedent for my presence (with camera) on the Hill? Again, why does the power reside in a largely unelected, unaccountable body of Parliament that is not defined by statute? I’ve made a sport out of taking on institutions with artificial and inflated senses of entitlement, maybe the Press Gallery is next.

Or, you may ask, why don’t I just suck it up and join this all-powerful guild as some of the friendlier gallery-folk have suggested? I’ve always been unsure about this move as I am a declared partisan, yet I am not employed by the Conservative Party. Still, should partisan media exist? Should it be allowed? Since this blog is de facto media and it already operates in a partisan manner, should the CRTC or Elizabeth Thompson shut it down? Frankly, I can understand reasons against ‘official’ recognition of my media status in the Parliamentary precinct. After all, couldn’t I flood Conservatives with long and friendly press conference questions to waste time? (yes). Would I? (no). Would I sell out my media brethren and sign up for ‘the list’? (yes).

But then again, the game is changing and bloggers are becoming a new category in a variety of forums they intersect. Will the next evolutionary phase be a smooth one or will it require direct action?

As the concept of “press” is being redefined to include bloggers, perhaps we shouldn’t be so surprised that some of the “officials” that are trampling on our rights include members of the “dead tree” division of the guild we wish to complement.

UPDATE: I’ve been told that I am ineligible for membership in the Parliamentary Press Gallery because I am not employed as a journalist by any organization. Do you think that the evolution of media and reporting should change some of the traditions and practices on parliament hill?

NCC article

Gerry Nichols, who heads up the National Citizens Coalition invited me to write an article about freedom/liberty issues and I agreed. What else to write about than blogging and its role in spreading liberty in Canada. The article will appear in next month’s newsletter and I’ve been given the go-ahead to give my readers a sneak peak here.

Beware The Blog!

The Internet is changing the way the world communicates and that’s good news for those of us who value freedom.

On an international level this new technology is breaking down barriers of communication and linking citizens in emergent democracies to ideologies and philosophies of freedom that were otherwise denied to them by their governments.

And here in Canada, blogging, podcasting and online communities are radically changing how information is handled, reported and interpreted.

The advent of blogging, in particular, has enabled every person to easily make their opinions available to a global audience. It has also provided Canadians with an alternative to the often biased mainstream news media.

Indeed it was to counter this bias that we started BloggingTories.ca, an online community of approximately 200 conservative-minded bloggers including several Conservative party MPs and candidates, journalists and authors.

These BloggingTories interpret Canadian news and events as they unfold free from the biased filter of the media.

And BloggingTories just don’t interpret the news. They also investigate and publicize facts and information the mainstream media either ignores or fails to uncover.

For instance, Blogging Tories have uncovered a variety of government-related concerns from the limited mandate of Justice John Gomery to the preponderance of Liberal donors on the boards of Crown corporations.

In fact, print and broadcast media have actually taken to publishing and broadcasting the opinions and findings of Blogging Tories.

All this has made our group a real thorn in the side of the ruling Liberal party.

But the value of blogging and the Internet goes beyond just making life difficult for Liberal politicians.

These new technologies, I believe, will also make it possible to sidestep the Liberal governmentÂ’s notorious election gag laws.

Of course, supporters of the National Citizens Coalition know all about the gag law and how it stifles freedom of expression.

You know how it makes it a crime for citizens to freely and effectively communicate political opinions during elections and how the NCC bravely battled against them in the courts for more than 20 years.

You also know how last year the Supreme Court of Canada endorsed this horrible law as constitutional.

What you might not know, however, is that the gag law is designed to zero in on election expenditures.

Once you spend more than $500 on election advertising you must register with Elections Canada; you are not permitted to spend more than $150,000 on a national campaign; you can’t spend more than $3000 on a local campaign.

But blogging is virtually free. So the costs of getting your message out on the Internet falls far below the gag law imposed limits.

This opens the possibility of running an election ad campaign on the Internet. Why not? Certainly the value and widespread ease of dissemination of a blogger’s message can match or surpass any of the Liberal government’s paid propaganda.

My point is that citizens with a message for change are enabled by blogging; they can use it to weaken the grip of incumbents who craft anti-speech laws to protect their positions.

Of course, the government may yet move to control the Internet. The Canadian Radio-Television Commission (CRTC) is perhaps one of the most significant spoilers of free expression in this country and it likely has its eyes set on regulating cyberspace.

The CRTC may argue for instance that to be granted the right to broadcast information, one must apply for a license and must fall within the ideological mission of the government body.

At the present time however, the CRTC has not put up a significant challenge to the free expression of otherwise legal political opinion on the Internet. Time will reveal whether or not they will try.

In the meantime, the BloggingTories will continue to provide a grassroots voice for change.

And in the process these conservative-minded bloggers will reshape how we receive political news and commentary.

They are changing the concept of democracy.

On comparing the Conservative Party to Democrats

Some in the Canadian Conservative movement have half-correctly compared our party to the Democrats in the United States. While the philosophy shared between the two parties is as different as it is similar, our predicament can draw a few parallels.

For instance, like the Dems we are perennially without power in our country; our members find their party in the wilderness. We both watch desperately as our good people and good thinkers are shut out the executive (Paul Martin’s appointment of the crypto-loyalist Michaelle Jean), the legislative (we cannot form government without Ontario), and the judiciary (rehearing of Chaoulli supreme court decision, the appointment of Supreme Court judges). Indeed, like the Democrats we are left helpless as our respective visions for our respective countries rest unimplemented.

Fortunately, unlike the Democrats, the new Conservative Party of Canada has a strong philosophical base; for the most part, we have not reverted to chaos in order to determine what we stand for. The party has matured, found its footing and is almost ready for power. While our party may disagree on a couple of social issues, these are not significant hurdles to the actual issues of governance. The Democrats however, find themselves turning hard-left under Chairman Howard Dean while rushing towards the centre with presidential front-runner Hillary Clinton. In contrast, Stephen Harper through his leadership has induced moderation and a common direction for the party. However, many on the outside, and those that channel PMO spokesman Scott Reid, still have the belief that Harper harbours undesirable motives. Therefore, the only similarity that can be drawn with the Democrats with this respect is that Conservative Party messaging is impotent; we cannot effectively control the message. Some say that this is a problem with “the mainstream media”.

Now, let’s be realistic. Whether or not our perceived uphill battle against “the media” is true or not, it is how it should be. The media should be hard on us, however, let me qualify by saying that it should be hard on anyone that desires to run this country (Liberal party included). As a Canadian first, and a Conservative second, I would ask nothing less of the fourth estate than adequate scrutiny of anyone who wishes to lead this country. However, the media should be fair. Enter the blogosphere.

Unlike the Democrats, we are winning the blogwars. I often attribute the greater order and dominance of the Canadian Conservative blogosphere to the very fact that our voices are marginalized and that our official party messaging implodes every time Don Martin points out a fault. The Democrats are losing the American struggle for blog dominance for one simple reason. While their messaging is equally troubled and their voices marginalized (yet not to the same degree despite the ‘dominance’ of Fox News), they do not speak with any semblance of unity. For the most part, Canadian Conservative bloggers are focused, organized and thrive in their cohesion.

At the core of their repective problems, the Conservative party and the Democrats are quite different yet similar in the end. While being anti-war could be the most identifiable casus belli of the Democratic party, they lack unity on this issue with John Kerry’s voting for/against the war and Hillary Clinton’s equally polyvalent stance. Comparatively in Canada, no Conservative is ‘pro-Adscam’, however, we fail for the same reason as the Democrats. In the end, the Conservative Party and the Democrats must offer real solutions and positive vision for our respective countries.

If we should lead, our party should look forward. If not, we fill find ourselves mired in regress.