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The institutional “press relations” of the National Assembly are handled by the Press, Television and Radio Unit. This unit, which is part of the Communication and Multimedia Information Department, has a staff of around thirty civil servants. It deals both with the reception and accreditation of journalists and the provision of information to the press concerning parliamentary work. It thus acts as a complement to other ‘press relations’ services of a more political nature, which could be provided by other sources within the National Assembly, in particular the President and the political groups.
I. – RECEPTION AND ACCREDITATION OF JOURNALISTS
The press office carries out the reception of journalists and grants the authorization of access to the premises of the National Assembly. The Press Unit also manages permanent press accreditations and requests for reporting and filming.
1. – Reception
Journalists are received by the Press Office which is situated at the entrance reserved for the press (33, quai d’Orsay). By going there or by contacting the Office by telephone or electronic mail, journalists are provided with all the information they require:
- Information concerning the agenda of the National Assembly as well as meetings of committees, missions and delegations;
- Information on press conferences and other meetings open to the press;
- Parliamentary documents (Government or Members’ bills, reports etc.) including amendments debated in committee meetings or in plenary sitting;
- Detailed information concerning parliamentary procedure or the daily life of Parliament, obtained, when necessary, through the parliamentary civil servants of the Press Unit.
2. – Accreditations
In order to gain access within the Palais Bourbon to the places where they can meet and interview M.P.s, as well as to the spaces which are reserved to them (press rooms and press galleries in the Chamber), journalists must hold an accreditation which is provided to them by the National Assembly. They may also have access to the meeting rooms in which proceedings which are open to the press take place (committee hearings most of the time) and where press conferences occur. If they have a prior appointment with an M.P. they may also be allowed to go to his office.
Media which regularly cover parliamentary proceedings can be permanently accredited. This accreditation is granted by a committee whose secretariat is manned by the Press Unit and which is composed, in accordance with article 29 of the General Rules of the Bureau of the National Assembly, of M.P.s (the Chairman of the Bureau Delegation in charge of communication, Questeurs) and representatives of the press: the Chairman and Secretary General of the Association of Parliamentary Journalists, the Director General of the French National Press Federation, the Chairman of the French Federation of Press Agencies, the Chairman of the Foreign Press Association and the Chairman of the Anglo-American Press Association.
This commission meets once a year to examine new requests for accreditation made by the media. Its decisions are based on the following criteria, which have been fixed over time:
- The commission grants permanent accreditation to media organizations and not to individual journalists;
- Accreditation is granted, taking into account the requirements of pluralist coverage, to those media whose publication is regular and whose circulation and broadcasting is wide and whose journalists (who must all possess a press card) regularly follow the proceedings of the National Assembly;
- For foreign press, media accreditation usually depends on their prior recognition by the Foreign Press Association the Anglo-American Press Association (as for the foreign journalists themselves, they must be accredited by the Ministry of Foreign Affairs);
- The commission grants an accreditation for an unlimited period. Every year, the Press Unit asks each accredited medium to provide a list of journalists which its editorial board wishes to see accredited and subsequently provides them with an access pass to the National Assembly for one calendar year;
- The commission may also withdraw its accreditation from a newspaper or other medium but this procedure is rarely used (and generally only when a newspaper or other medium no longer fulfils the criteria of accreditation).
The Press Office may grant, upon request, accreditations to journalists who do not hold permanent accreditations but who wish to access the premises of the National Assembly for a temporary period. In this case, accreditation requires having a professional press card, an official accreditation with the Ministry of Foreign Affairs or an official certificate from the editorial board for non-permanent contributors to a particular medium (free-lances, trainees etc.).
3. – Authorizations for filming and reporting
Photographers and television crews must be accredited. They can access the National Assembly without undergoing other specific procedures, except in two cases where particular rules governing access are applied:
- When the filming and reporting is due to take place in locations which are not usually open to the press;
- When the photographers or television crews do not belong to the staff of a particular newspaper or other medium and cannot therefore avail of the advantages of journalists – a growing number of programmes broadcast by television channels are made, for example, by production companies;
- Reports or films which fall into these two categories must undergo a special prior authorization procedure carried out by the Press Office and validated, depending on the case, by the President, the Questeurs or the administrative authorities of the National Assembly.
II. – INFORMING JOURNALISTS
The Press Unit has a procedure for informing journalists precisely and quickly on the work of the National Assembly. This procedure is twofold: on the one hand, through publications, on the other hand, through specialized information provided by civil servants specifically in charge of press relations.
1. – Publications
a) The future calendar
Each week the Press Unit publishes, in electronic form, the “Assembly Calendar” which brings together in a single document, the internet links to the agenda of the Assembly’s sittings, the timetable for meetings of committees, missions and delegations and information concerning meetings open to the press, as well as events organized at and by the National Assembly.
This Calendar is transmitted, by priority, to the press agencies who use it to build up their own weekly and daily timetables. It is also transmitted to any journalist who makes such a request to the Press Unit. It is also published on the National Assembly’s internet site in the press section.
b) Following committee work: Focus Files
A “Focus File” is a technical file on a (Government or Members’) bill which is published immediately following its examination by the relevant committee and before it goes before the public sitting. This file is only published in an electronic form. It contains, in addition to a reminder of the main provisions of the bill, links to internet sites which might have a connection, as well as the main amendments or principal modifications brought in by the committee.
The “ Focus Files” are addressed by electronic mail to journalists registered on a specific list. They are simultaneously included in legislative files on the internet site of the National Assembly.
c) Factual press communiqués
On the contrary of press communiqués which are published by M.P.s or political groups, whose objective is to publicize positions or commentaries on current political affairs, the press communiqués of the Press Unit are purely factual and informative. They are essentially given over to parliamentary work and, for the vast majority, either announce the opening to the press of meetings of committees, missions and delegations or the holding of press conferences by M.P.s with positions within the National Assembly. In addition to this, the Press Unit publishes communiqués of a similar nature concerning events organized by the National Assembly (the Children’s Parliament), as well as certain other activities which might take place there (symposiums, exhibitions).
The communiqués are distributed by the Press Unit both within the National Assembly and outside. They are sent first of all to the press agencies working in the Palais Bourbon as well as to the parliamentary television channel (LCP-Assemblée Nationale). They are also posted in the press rooms. Other journalists, however, receive them by electronic mail.
The Press Unit keeps and updates distibution lists in a variety of different specializations; politics, economics, labour, health, etc. These lists can be permanent and concern a very broad field or they can be temporary and have a very precise goal thus targeting those interested in a very specific piece of parliamentary work. Other lists may concern very different areas such as the list of ‘photo agencies’ which is used to contact such agencies when events may be covered from a visual point of view or the list of local press contacts, used when the provincial media might be interested in a particular issue. In order to keep these lists up-to-date, the Press Unit has a subscription to press contact databases.
In addition, the communiqués published by the Press Unit are simultaneously placed on-line on the internet site of the National Assembly, in the Press section. They are also available as RSS feeds to be taken up by other internet sites.
2. – Specialized partners
One of the main briefs of the Press Unit is to report on meetings of committees, missions and delegations which are, in most cases, not open to the public. In order to do this the civil servants working in the unit are divided up into fields of competence which cover the various remits of the different standing committees. They are thus able to provide journalists with assistance in searching for very specialized information, especially when one takes into account the extreme complexity of some bills.
The remits of seven of the eight standing committees (Cultural Affairs, Economic Affairs, Foreign Affairs, Social Affairs, Sustainable Development, Finance and Law) and of the other parliamentary bodies (Foreign Affairs Committee, Women’s Rights Delegation, Assessment and Monitoring Commission, commissions of inquiry, fact-finding missions set up by the Conference of Presidents) are covered by five civil servants (one adviser and four deputy advisers). The Defence Committee and the Parliamentary Office for Scientific and Technological Assessment have their own press relations services.
Thanks to such a mechanism, journalists can obtain a quick and reliable report of meetings to which they do not have access. In fact, the civil servants of the Press Unit are immediately available at the end of meetings to provide the media with information concerning the debates which have taken place and the amendments which have been examined as well as to answer any questions and to transmit documents meant for distribution (reports, amendments etc.). Afterwards and throughout the period of the parliamentary procedure and the subsequent implementation of a bill, these same civil servants are available to provide journalists, be they general reporters or more specialized, with the necessary information.
III. – MATERIAL FACILITIES
In keeping with the constitutional duty of maintaining the public nature of parliamentary debates, the press is very much at home in the National Assembly. Thus it is provided with its own offices on the premises. In addition, and in particular on account of recent developments in the television media, the press is granted specific technical facilities concerning the recording and broadcasting of proceedings either in plenary sitting or in committee meetings.
1. – Special offices reserved for the press
Journalists work in different rooms and offices spread over several floors within the Palais Bourbon all of which are adjacent to the Chamber. On the first floor, the Empire Room provides a splendid backdrop for the offices of the Chairman and the Secretary General of the Association of Parliamentary Journalists but is also used for interviews. On the second and third floors there are two editorial rooms with the telephone and computer connections necessary for the retransmission of data. Journalists who work regularly at the National Assembly have individual offices there. In addition, there are radio boothes equipped to receive sound from the plenary sitting and linked to the radio stations in order to broadcast live or after editing. Finally, a press conference room is available for M.P.s to present their parliamentary work.
2. – Providing televised broadcasts of parliamentary proceedings
All plenary sittings and most meetings of committees, missions and delegations open to the press, are recorded for television by the services of the National Assembly. These pictures are then broadcast on the internal television channel which is available in each M.P.’s office. They are also made available to the Parliamentary Channel (which only broadcasts some of them) and to other television channels for their news programmes. To do this, a fibre-optic link carries the pictures from the National Assembly directly to the control rooms of the main French television channels. These pictures, which have no copyright, may also be rebroadcast by other channels, either live or at a later time, as the Press, Television and Radio Unit keep the recordings available for the channels either physically or electronically.
More generally, the pictures of debates are available for the general public on the internet site of the National Assembly both live and upon request on video. Since the autumn of 2009, the Press Unit has been systematically carrying out the indexing and the editing of pictures broadcast via internet. This promises a better access to debates and will allow the downloading of sections of debates chosen by internet users.