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Tension erupts between press and premier

Weeks of growing tension erupted into a shouting match Thursday betweenPremier Rodney MacDonald’s staff and the provincial press corps.

Weeks of growing tension erupted into a shouting match Thursday between Premier Rodney MacDonald’s staff and the provincial press corps.

And it was all over a podium.

Two weeks ago, the premier’s staff announced they wanted to do away with media scrums – where politicians answer questions in a crowd of reporters – at weekly cabinet meetings.

Instead, they said, he would take questions from a podium because it “looks and sounds better.” Staff said access to the premier would not change.

Reporters worried the new setup would allow the premier to control the conversation, and an easy exit if things went bad. A similar move by Prime Minister Stephen Harper eventually led to tightly controlled events, where Harper takes only a few questions from selected reporters.

So yesterday, journalists covering MacDonald set up a scrum where they always had.

When MacDonald came out to the podium, they requested he come down to do a scrum. MacDonald said he was staying put.

After a brief standoff – with neither side moving -- reporters scrummed the premier around the podium.

“I’ve been very respectful to all of you with being available to answer questions,” said MacDonald after several minutes of questions.

“I would’ve hoped there would have been a little respect shown to our government. Obviously today that’s not been the case.”

MacDonald then turned and walked out the back entrance. Reporters and MacDonald’s spokesman, Paul Palmeter, began arguing. Many reporters demanded a guarantee this wasn’t a move towards tighter restrictions, such as submitting questions beforehand.

The response that there is “no plan” to do that was not seen as adequate. No solution has yet been reached.

 
 
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