Parliamentary reporting for beginners; by Bob Eggington, Media Helping Media

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1: Respect the power of words

The word parliament comes from ‘parlement’ – a word in Norman French meaning a conversation or a ‘talking’. In written European records, it has been used for more than 800 years to describe gatherings to talk about affairs of state.

The forerunner of modern parliaments met in 1265 in Westminster, England. By tradition, opposing parties sat two swords length apart – they had to resolve their differences with words, not weapons. Parliament, therefore, is all about words, argument, debate. The parliamentary reporter has the special responsibility of reporting those debates to the public.

2: Reflect the importance of Parliament

Parliaments make and modify the laws of the land. In most parliamentary systems, the executive needs the support of parliament to stay in power. A vote of no confidence in the government will usually cause it to fall. Parliament is also an important stage for the testing of arguments. And like any stage, it can throw up moments of great drama. The parliamentary reporter witnesses, summarises and reflects all of this to the public. And if, for whatever reason, parliament becomes impotent, it is just as important to reflect that.

3: Know the local laws

Different legislative bodies have different rules concerning access, privilege, use of cameras and recorders and so on. Parliaments, perhaps understandably, tend to take a severe view of anyone who does not respect their rules. Familiarise yourself with these rules, otherwise you may find yourself in contempt of parliament.

4: The importance of getting it right

At the most obvious level, check spellings, titles, party allegiances, etc. But it is equally important to quote people correctly and summarise their arguments fairly. The public will make up their minds about the big issues of the day partly on the basis of what they read and hear and see in the media. Make sure they have the correct information on which to decide.

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