The Prime Minister's Office is facing criticism for restricting journalists from covering certain aspects of an international maternal health summit in Toronto.
Maclean's science reporter Kate Lunau wrote Wednesday that, at the launch of the three-day conference, reporters were banned from attending sessions about immunization and nutrition.
Lunau said journalists also learned they could not attend the next day's sessions on newborn and maternal health.
On Thursday, reporters were told they could not attend a speech by Dr. Margaret Chan, director-general of the World Health Organization.
Media now petitioning to be able to stay for remarks from Dr. Margaret Chan, D-G of the WHO. Schedule has us barred from that one. #MNCH— Kate Lunau (@katelunau) May 29, 2014
Media is removed from panel discussion just as Dr. Margaret Chan of the WHO takes the stage. #MNCH— Kate Lunau (@katelunau) May 29, 2014
Dr. Chan of the WHO had just started speaking about her education at Western University, fond words for Canada, when media taken out. #MNCH— Kate Lunau (@katelunau) May 29, 2014
The Globe and Mail's Kim Mackrael tweeted she was told by organizers the decision was meant to ensure "frank discussions" could occur.
No media access to any of maternal/child health summit panels. Organizers have said this is to ensure frank discussions will occur #cdnpoli— Kim Mackrael (@kimmackrael) May 29, 2014
That was also the sentiment expressed on Twitter by Harper press secretary, Carl Vallee.
Closed sessions enable candid discussion that will inform forward policy positions on #savinglives, a top global development priority.— Carl Vallée (@carlvallee) May 29, 2014
Reporters were, however, allowed to return to hear Laureen Harper welcome Melinda Gates before her keynote speech.
Next up at #MNCH, Laureen Harper introduces Melinda Gates for the keynote speech. We are in for this one.— Kate Lunau (@katelunau) May 29, 2014
Perhaps unsurprisingly, the restrictions didn't sit well with other journalists — people who are paid to cover events and ask questions — who took to Twitter to voice their displeasure.
It's unfathomable that reporters are being banished for a speech from the WHO director at Harper's maternal health summit. What's to hide?— Don Martin (@DonMartinCTV) May 29, 2014
So we're down to the "candid discussions can only be had in private" theory, I see. That's kind of dispiriting.— Aaron Wherry (@AaronWherry) May 29, 2014
Wonder what diabolical plan is being cooked up at this summit on child and maternal health that reporters must not hear?— Bruce Cheadle (@BCheadle) May 29, 2014
Maclean's politics editor Paul Wells took it a step further with a column on the controversy, calling it "asinine."
Wells suggested it was another example of the prime minister picking a needless fight.
"Harper's instincts are sometimes really bad, and when his latest advisers let those instincts win, reporters are the least of their problems," Wells wrote. "Their problem is Stephen Harper."
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