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Canada's Conservatives are working from the Rovian playbook and succeeding. Proof in point: the Ottawa parliamentary press corps has voted to suspend the boycott of Prime Minister Stephen Harper's press conferences.

Two questions were put to the vote, the first whether to suspend the boycott and an amendment to suspend the boycott for 30 days only. The amendment passed by a margin of just two votes.

Parliamentary press gallery reporters had voted unanimously in April to boycott Harper's press conferences because they felt that the new procedure of signing up to ask questions enabled the Prime Minister to cherrypick which reporters he would favour.

I can see this leading to the situation where the PMO could deny access to reporters who publish articles that are unflattering to the government.

Some members of the parliamentary press gallery feel the same way:

Many journalists who spoke against ending the boycott during the two-hour meeting are concerned that agreeing to the PMO's rules is slippery slope that will open the door to further restrictions from the Tory government or similar vetting from opposition parties and other groups who hold press conferences on the Hill.

However the boycott wasn't working very well. CanWestNews broke the boycott last month.

Politics Watch News describes the roadblocks to the success of the boycott:

A number of problems were aired, such as cable news channels, networks and larger newspapers bypassing the boycott by having exclusive interviews with the PM. As well, the ban did not apply off of the Hill. Some organizations kept the ban in place for reporters travelling with the PM, but many had reporters ask questions out of town.

More telling though is the footnote that Politics Watch appended to this article to explain their own vote on the boycott:

As an accredited news organization with the Parliamentary Press Gallery, PoliticsWatch has one vote in the Gallery and voted in favour of the motion to suspend the boycott. PoliticsWatch also voted against the amendment that placed the 30-day time limit on the suspension.  

At this time, PoliticsWatch has taken the editorial decision to no longer support a boycott because it has had the unintended consequence of benefiting larger news organizations.

Although all reporters from these organizations honoured the boycott at press conferences on the Hill, many were granted and accepted exclusive interviews with the PM.

Smaller organizations, such as PoliticsWatch, are thus left in a competitive disadvantage.

I can understand why these reporters would vote to suspend the boycott but I think they are screwed either way. If they continue the boycott, they don't get to ask Harper the tough questions about the current issues but if they kowtow to the new protocol of signing in, they will find themselves singing Harper's praise or risk losing the opportunity to be chosen to ask questions.

And if that is the case, then we all lose.

Oh Steve, do you have to be so transparent about playing by the Republicans' rules?

Cross-posted at The Next Agenda.

Originally posted to Thursday Next on Wed Sep 06, 2006 at 09:42 AM PDT.

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