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Australia Senate lifts media censorship rules after 25 years

October 13, 2016 - 2:47 AM

CANBERRA, Australia - The Australian Senate on Thursday lifted tough censorship rules on media coverage of its sessions at the urging of a senator who himself was recently snapped snoozing in the chamber.

Independent lawmaker Derryn Hinch, who is a former journalist, was caught napping by a photographer in the Senate in August when it sat for the first time after July elections.

The extraordinary restrictions on press photographers working in the Senate have banned such candid and unflattering pictures for the past 25 years. Senators can be snapped only when they stand to speak.

The rules had been relaxed the day Hinch was photographed because of the special circumstances of the opening of Australia's 45th Parliament. It was a rare sitting of all federal 226 lawmakers in a single chamber to hear a speech by the governor-general. Many, like Hinch, had never before been seen publicly as senators because they had just been elected. Lawmakers in the House of Representative were accustomed to more liberal media rules in their own chamber.

Hinch on Thursday successfully moved the motion that allows the press to photograph largely whatever they want in the Senate. No senator opposed the motion to lift the current restrictions from Nov. 28. The Senate rules will then be the same as those in the House of Representatives. Media are not permitted to photograph the contents of lawmakers' documents in either chamber.

"It sounds crazy, but I got caught falling asleep ... and that was the only day you could legally take my photo," the 72-year-old told reporters. "I could sleep every afternoon for the rest of the session and you're not allowed to photograph it — now that's just wrong."

Hinch, who was dubbed "the Human Headline" during his media career due to his tendency to become the centre of news stories, denied suspicions that his nap was a publicity stunt. But he said the fact that he was caught and still wanted more media freedom added impetus to his campaign.

He personally defied the restrictions by photographing himself in the chamber and posting the picture on social media. He was not sanctioned for the rule breech.

The censorship rules ignited debate in March when a journalist tweeted from the Senate that a senator was playing the video game Candy Crush on his iPad. Senate security then seized the journalist's phone in case it contained photographic evidence, sparking complaints from the media that security had overstepped its authority.

Federal Parliamentary Press Gallery President Andrew Meares welcomed the Senate rule change after 25 years of negotiations with journalists.

News from © The Associated Press, 2016
The Associated Press

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