A media scrum is an impromptu press conference, often held immediately outside an event such as a legislative session or meeting. Scrums play a central role in Canadian politics and also occur in the United Kingdom, Australia, and New Zealand. The same term is now also used for similar gatherings of journalists in the United States.
Origin of the term
A scrum in rugby is a procedure to restart the game. From the outside, it may seem to involve players from both teams clustering tightly around the ball competing for possession. Analogously, in a media scrum reporters cluster around a public figure competing for his or her attention.
In Canada, the scrum is a daily ritual in the hallway outside the House of Commons. Members of the Parliamentary Press Gallery surround politicians as they exit the chamber. The disorganization and pressure of the scrum makes it notorious for drawing remarks that are unplanned or controversial. Liberal MP Carolyn Parrish remarked, "damn Americans, I hate those bastards" during a scrum in the run-up to the Iraq War.
Because of these concerns, politicians have sometimes tried to avoid the scrum in favour of more formal venues. Canadian Alliance leader Stockwell Day declined to scrum, instead holding a daily press conference. Brian Mulroney restricted scrums during his time as Prime Minister of Canada by positioning himself on the stairway up to his office. This allowed him to tower over the media on the steps below him. The media so resented this practice that when Jean Chrétien held a "staircase scrum" soon after assuming office, their reaction was so negative that he promised never to do it again. By contrast, although Pierre Trudeau's relationship with the press was rocky, he was famously quick-witted and enjoyed deflecting — or returning — barbs from reporters. Many of his famous quotations, including "there's no place for the state in the bedrooms of the nation" and "just watch me", were made during scrums.
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- Washington Post: Canadian Apologizes For Expletive About U.S., by DeNeen L. Brown 28 February 2003, Page A17. Available online.
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