Members of the Parliamentary Press Gallery yesterday called each other “jerks,” “fascists,” “bonkers,” and possibly “fascist jerk-bonkers” (unconfirmed) over a proposal introduced late Friday afternoon by their Executive Committee.
Under the proposal to reform Press Gallery rules, any journalist could be suspended or expelled from Parliament Hill if a secret committee of their peers upholds a complaint about them submitted by just about anyone: a politician, a federal employee, a private citizen or a fellow journalist. Complaints that would qualify include “sexual harassment,” “threats of violence,” and “violence,” which all seem reasonable enough, but the list also includes “intimidation” and “personal harassment.”
Given that elected officials routinely consider themselves intimidated and personally harassed by journalists (or at least, they should feel that way) the proposed new rules seem rife for abuse. Journalists could also be expelled if a complaint is made that they have been found guilty of a criminal offence, like, say, defamatory libel or street racing (*cough* Kady *cough*).
Ottawa’s political reporters have been hurling invective at one another about this on Twitter since Sunday, when indie news site Blacklock’s Reporter made the gallery’s proposal known.
Unknown is why Ottawa’s journalists would want to impose such rules on themselves. “Where did this come from? Do you have a case you can cite as the reason why you launched this? Is there anything that’s happened?” asked Carol Off on yesterday’s As It Happens, in an interview with Press Gallery President and CBC News politics writer Laura Payton.
“No.” answered Payton.
CANADALAND has learned that this is not accurate.
The amendments were triggered by an incident involving Tom Korski, the same Blacklock’s reporter who first reported them. Korski confirmed to CANADALAND that he has a long-standing personality conflict with iPolitics.ca reporter Elizabeth Thompson, who serves as Treasurer on the Press Gallery executive. They have been at odds since Korski joined the Gallery, when Thompson questioned whether Korski and his spouse, Blacklock’s publisher Holly Doan, were accurately registered. Their animus came to a head in the “Hot Room,” a shared 3rd floor workspace for Press Gallery freelancers and other Hill journalists whose outfits can’t afford a bureau*.
Elizabeth Thompson confirms that the altercation with Korski led to the new proposal. Here’s how she remembers it:
“There was an incident in September…where another gallery member threatened to ‘take my fucking head off.'”
Korski denies saying this, but author and journalist Mark Bourrie, a friend of Korski’s who helped launch Blacklock’s, overheard the shouting and confirms that Korski made just such a comment. “I don’t remember the exact wording,” says Bourrie, “but it was something like that. They’ve been fighting forever.”
iPolitics.ca publisher James Baxter also confirms to CANADALAND that the statement was made, that he considers it a threat, and that he has a recording of it, which he is not releasing at this time.
Elizabeth Thompson was not the first employee at Parliament Hill to have issues with Korski. Tom Korski confirms to CANADALAND that following the altercation with Thompson he was called into a meeting with then Sergeant-at-Arms Kevin Vickers, who told him a Senate security guard and Press Gallery president Laura Payton had also made complaints about him.
UPDATE: Laura Payton denies complaining about Korski to Vickers. CANADALAND is seeking clarification from Vickers and will update as necesarry.
Korski tells CANADALAND he’d never met Payton, and describes the complaints as “a bit of rat-fuckery. It was chicken-shit politics”.
When CANADALAND asked Korski what he thought of the proposed amendments, Korski said the following:
“If they want to draft an entire constitutional amendment to get rid of me, that’s flattering. That’s living legend territory. But I can’t confirm that it’s true.”
While the altercation between Korski and Thompson did in fact inspire the executive to draft the proposed amendments, nothing in them would help Thompson oust Korski for past behaviour. The rules would not be applied retroactively, and do seem designed to equip the Press Gallery with tools to deal with harassment and abuse, which it currently lacks. Also, though Elizabeth Thompson was present for a meeting of the executive where the proposal was discussed, she recused herself from the drafting of them.
Still, the potential for abuse of the proposed rules suggests they will likely be challenged, and perhaps scrapped, at this Friday’s general meeting of Press Gallery members.
Reflecting on Korski’s remarks to Thompson, Mark Bourrie says simply, “he should have just apologized.”
* CANADALAND has since been told that many journalists in the Hot Room could totally afford or already have their own bureaus, but choose to work from this shared space because it’s more fun.