22 October 2003

Why is Bush avoiding the Australian media? Don't ask

George Bush's word is apparently beyond question. At least, by the Australian press.

The US President has declined a customary joint press conference after his address to the Federal Parliament tomorrow.

The media event, which normally allows two or three questions from Australian media and an equal number from the visiting press, would have been the only official opportunity for Australian journalists to quiz Mr Bush on the Iraq war and its aftermath.

It would also be the only opportunity to ask the US President about the two Australian citizens being detained without charge at Guantanamo Bay.

Australian journalists have also been denied any place in a so-called 'close-up media pool' that will follow Mr Bush on all his official stops on the day. All positions in the four-member pool have been allocated to members of the White House press corps.

The US Secret Service rejected an application from the Canberra press gallery for equal access, on the basis that the journalists did not have the required US security clearances. The Secret Service then declined to allow the journalists to apply for those clearances; no reason was given.

A marquee has been set up in the grounds of The Lodge to allow the American journalists to file their stories. No Australian media will be allowed on the grounds.

A member of the team put together by Mr Howard's department to make press arrangements for the visit conceded yesterday that Australian media will learn of events at Government House and The Lodge from news reports filed in the US.

What a gutless wonder! Correction, it is hard to tell whether Bush is more gutless for evading questions or Howard is more gutless for allowing him to do it. When did the US Secret Service acquire the right to close our parliament without asking permission from either house or to decide which journalists are allowed to attend a press conference?

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