Parliamentary Coverage

It is well documented that Sam Ross was one of the first broadcast journalists in the Parliamentary Press Gallery, accredited in 1958. For some years, he was the sole practitioner for radio, sending voice reports via telephone, mostly to Western Canadian stations belonging to the All-Canada Mutually Operated group (ACMO later Selkirk Communications).

The CBC first assigned reporters Tom Earle and Norman dePoe to the Hill in 1959. They did voice reports that were used for radio and for television, as television during that period relied on voice-over reports and the odd filmed interview of parliamentarians.

In the 1960s, the rivalry between three Toronto stations CFRB, CKEY and CHUM saw the creation of their own parliamentary bureaus, RB sending Newfoundlander Arthur Harnett to the Hill, CKEY dispatching Tayler “Hap” Parnaby, and Paul Taylor with CHUM engaging Paul Akehurst who was working as a newscaster at CKOY Ottawa.

BN, the broadcast subsidiary of the Canadian Press, initially assigned Charles Morrow and John Huston, Bill Scott and Richard Avery to “cover” the Hill for the co-operative with both original print for broadcast stories and voice reports.

Television reporters were subsequently accredited, as were more and more radio reporters, so that by the late ’70s, the number of broadcasters and the number of print journalists on Parliament Hill was almost the same.

At first, the broadcasters moved among the dozens of desks which made up the Press Gallery in the Centre Block of the Commons building and worked from there. But the area soon became badly overcrowded and cubby-holes or working spaces were created in the hallway to accommodate the expansion.

Parliament had to adapt to the more aggressive nature of radio and television compared to the written press. First there was the creation of the “scrum” room in the basement level of the House of Commons where politicians could hold news conferences and be interviewed. Then came the establishment of the National Press Building. There, not only was there a theatre for news conferences, but most news organizations rented space from the government for their offices, as the badly cramped facilities in the House of Commons were regarded as a fire trap. (audio below)

The pressure was on the government in the ’70s to provide for broadcast facilities directly from the House of Commons. It took several years of debate and much discussion before the momentous date in 1977 when cameras and microphones, initially provided by the CBC but subsequently installed and operated by a branch of the House of Commons, went into service.

This was a world first for an elected parliament. For broadcasters, it enabled them to enhance their reporting and gave Canadians the opportunity to see and hear their elected Members of Parliament for themselves.

Alberta’s CFRN, Edmonton, lays claim to being the first to open the doors of a provincial legislature to direct television, in 1973. While a few local municipalities also allowed the recording of their council sessions before Parliament permitted the entry of live broadcasting, the federal consent was a landmark decision because once it was there, there was no turning back. It created an opportunity for broadcasters to plug into provincial legislatures and city councils across the country. (audio below)

Sidney Margles – February, 2005

Audio Clips:

1 Jim Munson talks about the hazards of interviewing politicians

2 Bruce Hogle talks about Edmonton’s being the first to provide coverage of a sitting of Provincial Parliament