Tuesday , 6 June 2023
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Opinion, the elusive definition of a journalist

Perhaps a panel of academics in the journalism field headed by Dr. Terry Flynn of McMaster can cut through the Gordian knot of media accreditation. What started as an attempt to figure out who should have access to a new media facility the City of Hamilton is planning, has now expanded to include the establishment of a fact-finding committee headed by Dr. Flynn that will also have members from journalism schools across Canada. Hamilton’s General Issues committee voted Wednesday to allow the study to proceed.

It is an uncomfortable topic for councillors, who would rather not be seen as doing anything to exacerbate the sometimes tricky relationship between members of council and the media who cover them; and that was evident in some of the questioning on a proposed media policy.

Councillor Maureen Wilson wanted to know what was the problem the proposed accreditation policy was attempting to solve. Staff explained that the current media room was too small and was needed to accommodate civil weddings which are becoming more frequent. Staff took the opportunity to take a broader look at media accommodation and recommended setting up a larger media room complete with livestreaming facilities where news conferences could occur, and where working media would have desk space to file stories, and where media gear could be stored. This would represent a significant improvement in convenience and access for both the legacy  media who are regularly assigned to cover city hall but also freelance and independent media; but as the saying goes, ‘no good deed goes unpunished.’ The accreditation issue arose in part because the plan is for the new media centre to be available after hours. That in turn, means media will need to be granted door cards to allow access to both the building and the room. So then the question becomes, should anybody who calls themselves a journalist be allowed to wander around city hall at night or on weekends? Hence the attempt to figure out some standard for access.

Speaking as an independent journalist, I have no vested interest in the outcome. I would not use the facility in person. The media centre proposal would, however, allow me to listen in on news conferences that are not currently available, and would presumably stimulate more news interactions, which is probably a good thing. On the other hand, I can continue covering city hall as I do at present. In my legacy media past, I was a member, and at one time, a regional director of the Radio and Television News Directors Association which adheres to a code of ethics that is pretty standard across all news organizations, and for a hundred bucks I could rejoin them, which hopefully would satisfy the accreditation issue. But the real issue is that press galleries should be self-policing, and the local media don’t want that, leaving the communication department with a problem that everybody wants to complain about but nobody apparently wants to help solve.

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