Television news cameras will be excluded from Parliament's debating chamber when a new taxpayer-funded broadcasting system is installed this year.

But the decision has set Parliament on a collision course with the television networks over freedom of the press.

TVNZ news chief Bill Ralston and his TV3 counterpart, Mark Jennings, say they will approach new Speaker Margaret Wilson citing an undertaking given by her predecessor, Jonathan Hunt, that news cameras would be unaffected.

The Speaker's Office yesterday said the Cabinet had approved $6.2 million to install a system to provide coverage of all parliamentary sessions to TV networks free of charge. The system would cost another $3.2 million annually.

Live coverage is limited at present to a Sky broadcast of question time, but no network has yet signed up to broadcast the generic feed the new system will supply.

Wynne Price, clerk-assistant (Reporting Services), confirmed that news cameras would be excluded from the chamber once the new system was installed.

"That won't preclude individual one-offs - someone making a special video - but the idea is not to have that constant clutter."

The move accords with the standing orders committee's 2003 report reviewing standing orders. It said continued free access to filming in the chamber would be unacceptable.

"Having multiple sets of camera equipment in the galleries is physically intrusive. It has been tolerated only because the House has not produced its own feed until now."

But Mr Ralston said the move was a blow to press freedom.

"We will lose an element of editorial control to Parliament or whoever their contractor in doing these pictures is. We've got a very satisfactory system at the moment and I can't see what the problem is."

He said the whole thing "smelled" of politicians wanting to control their own image on television.

Mr Jennings said it was another example of politicians trying to put more controls on the press, and he did not buy the argument about clutter.

"This is contrary to an understanding that Ralston and I had with the previous Speaker.

"They want to be able to manipulate the images that the public sees. I also wonder about them spending $9 million of taxpayers' money on this."

Press Gallery chairman and TVNZ political editor Mark Sainsbury hopes to speak to Ms Wilson today.

"It's also an issue for the Press Gallery as a whole," he said. "What if they decide to have an official photographer so we don't have a myriad of press photographers?"

Mrs Price said meetings with networks would be the next step.

Ms Wilson's office was approached for comment but none was received.

The system will later be extended to select committees but will not be installed in existing committee rooms, only in new ones being planned.

Mrs Price hoped the system would be ready for the start of Parliament after the election.

Parliament on the box


* Sky currently broadcasts Parliament's question time but nothing else. TVNZ provides its feed, and TV3 also has cameras in the debating chamber.

* The Cabinet has approved $6.2m to install a television system but there is no agreement yet for any network to take its broadcast.

* TVNZ and TV3 are concerned about press freedom because once the system is installed their cameras will be excluded from the chamber.