Parliament and Media Relations

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Parliamentarians and media have a symbolic relationship. MPs and the institution of parliament rely upon the media to deliver their message and opinions to the general public. On the other hand, the media plays an important role in monitoring the work of the MPs and parliament that can result in a critical analysis of their work. This relationship is unavoidable in a multi-party system in which the media is ensured of freedom of expression.

A parliament should be aware of the duality of its relationship with the media but should not allow this reality to affect its ability to work with the media. To start, a parliament should support the media's role in observing the parliament. Journalists should be provided with enhanced access to MPs and facilities through the use of press badges or passes, thus ensuring they can move relatively freely within the institution.

Space should be allocated for journalists and media outlets so they have the facilities to produce and write stories. Many national parliaments have special rooms in which press conferences are held and questions can be asked of MPs. 

Parliaments should have dedicated communications staff that work with media outlets. These staff, or units in which they work, can provide official communiqués to the media about the work of parliament (all parliamentary groups will likely have their own communications staff to do the same on behalf of their parties). The more sophisticated parliaments may produce materials such as film footage, informational material and radio broadcasts to be used by the media that provide information about parliaments and its role in government. Communications departments will often be in charge of maintaining the website for the parliament and any other social media sites.

As unpleasant as it might be for MPs, parliaments must accept that the media have a role to play in observing and, sometimes, critizising the MPs and the institution of parliament. But such work must be done within the norms of good journalism. To ensure journalists are meeting such standards, parliaments can promote the regulation of journalists and/or provide capacity building.

Many parliaments across the globe have established codes of ethics for journalists. In some countries this is done through self-regulated press galleries in which the journalists and media outlets ensure all journalists that work at parliament are accredited and ensure minimum standards are met in their work. Other parliaments produce their own systems of accreditation and codes of ethics to which journalists must comply.

In countries in which freedom of the press is a new concept, there is a growing trend to provide capacity building for journalists who work with parliament. This may in the form of workshops and training that educate the journalists about the role of parliament and minimum standards for journalism in a democracy. This can be critical in countries transitioning from conflict or fragility as the new powers of the media can be a driver of conflict if citizens rely on those journalists to report on the work of their government institutions, including parliament.