Saturday, October 13, 2007

Karen Middleton: Defending the Gallery

By Brian Arnell

In a June 2007 interview on ABC Radio, some criticisms of the Canberra Press Gallery were put to Gallery President Karen Middleton.
Antony Funnell: Karen, if I could start with you: one
criticism that's often heard of the Canberra press gallery is that it gets too caught covering the mechanics of politics rather than the substance of politics. Is that a fair criticism?

Karen Middleton: I think it's always a danger that we can get caught up in the theatrics of things. When you sit watching parliament day after day, you do enjoy a little bit of light relief, and sometimes that can dominate the coverage. But I think we do try and get into the substance of things as well.

Unfortunately though, these days I think the politicking is
almost as important as the substance, in the sense that it can
can affect the morale of the parties and it can then affect the way they portray themselves and it can affect the support in the opinion polls. So everything feeds back on itself, and I think you can't ignore it.
Clearly Middleton does not see a problem with the performance of the Press Gallery. Maybe she had other things on her mind. To give context to this interview, it is worth noting that Middleton was in the middle of an election campaign herself at the time.

According to an article in The Australian, she had held the position of president of the press gallery committee for the last three years, but the contest was unexpected because her two predecessors had each served for five years unchallenged. Her challenger was David Speers of Sky News and there were fears that if successful Speers could take away office space from the ABC. Sky operates out of a tiny space and has long sought extra room.

According to the article, some members of the gallery were unhappy with Middleton's response to the proposed introduction of mandatory police checks for parliamentary pass-holders, including journalists and there was a particularly fiery corridor meeting. Middleton is reported to have presented a middle-of-the-road approach in her response, which angered some members of the Gallery.

Middleton went on to win her re-election a week later. However, the issue of office space allocation underlines the privileges granted to members of the Gallery. Furthermore, the challenge against her demonstrates that not all members of the Canberra Press Gallery are happy with its direction.

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