Harper says he’s finished with Ottawa press corps

CBC News
Wednesday, May 24, 2006

Prime Minister Stephen Harper says he’ll no longer give news conferences for the national media, after a dispute led a number of journalists to walk away from an event when he refused to take their questions.

Speaking to A-Channel in London, Ont., Harper said “unfortunately the press gallery has taken the view they are going to be the opposition to the government.”

Some reporters left Prime Minister Stephen Harper's press conference on aid to Sudan's Darfur region when told they could not ask questions.
Some reporters left Prime Minister Stephen Harper’s press conference on aid to Sudan’s Darfur region when told they could not ask questions. (Fred Chartrand/Canadian Press)

“They don’t ask questions at my press conferences now. We’ll just take the message out on the road. There’s lots of media who do want to ask questions and hear what the government is doing.”

Since becoming prime minister in January, Harper has had a testy relationship with the national media in Ottawa. His staff has tried to manage news conferences by saying they will decide which reporters get to ask questions.

The press gallery has refused to play by those rules. “We can’t accept that the Prime Minister’s Office would decide who gets to ask questions,” Yves Malo, a TVA reporter and president of the press gallery, told CP on Tuesday. “Does that mean that when there’s a crisis they’ll only call upon journalists they expect softball questions from?”

On Tuesday about two dozen Ottawa reporters walked out on a Harper event when he refused to take their questions.

That led Harper to say that from now on he will speak only to local media.

The CBC says it will continue to cover the prime minister. “If the prime minister chooses to take questions we will be there to ask them,” said Ottawa managing editor George Hoff. “We will have a journalist there to ask questions,” he said.

Harper’s supporters said Wednesday they believed the conflict is being blown out of proportion.

“I think this will get sorted out over time,” Conservative Geoff Norquay said during an interview on Politics on CBC Newsworld.

“I think both sides have an interest in sorting it out and I think they will over time. The reality is that every new government wants to keep a tight lid on its messages and this one in particular because it had the previous example of Mr. Martin who had so many priorities that they all turned to mush in the minds of the Canadian people. And that’s why this government is tightly focused on its messages,” he said.


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