7 Oct 2011

Speaker back-tracks on NZ Herald ban

8:36 pm on 7 October 2011

Parliament's Speaker has back-tracked on a total ban his office imposed on journalists from the New Zealand Herald.

Lockwood Smith has suspended the membership of 10 New Zealand Herald reporters for 10 days after the newspaper published a photo on its website of a man attempting to leap from the public gallery into the debating chamber on Wednesday.

Dr Smith says the Auckland-based newspaper breached standing orders prohibiting filming of the public gallery and late on Thursday banned its staff from using the press gallery offices from 10 October.

But on Friday afternoon, Dr Smith said the Herald's political reporters could use the offices, but would not have freedom to move about in other areas or use facilities such as Bellamy's restaurant and the Parliamentary library.

The Parliamentary Press Gallery, the Media Freedom Committee and the Engineering, Printing and Manufacturing Union have called for the Speaker to reconsider, saying his action is heavy-handed.

The Parliamentary Press Gallery says is is unfair and disproportionate to suspend an entire office because of one journalist's actions. Chair Jane Patterson said the decision, six weeks from a general election, is a clear disruption of the media's critical role in the democratic process.

The Herald said the decision fails to acknowledge the public's right to know of the risk Wednesday's incident posed to MPs.

Editor Tim Murphy, who also chairs the Media Freedom Committee, said the paper had yet to decide whether it would put the photo back on its website.

Parliament rose on Thursday night in preparation for the general election on 26 November.