POLITICS

MP Asks Why 'Parasitic' Journalists Are Allowed Into Parliament

19/03/2013 15:21 GMT | Updated 25/03/2013 19:34 GMT

A Labour MP has questioned why some "parasitical" journalists are allowed into parliament, a day after party leaders struck a deal on the future regulation of newspapers.

On Tuesday morning representatives from Hacked Off, the group that campaigned for the reform of press regulation in the wake of the phone hacking scandal, appeared before the Commons culture, media and sport committee to react to the agreement.

Hacked Off director Brian Cathcart and the group's chairman Hugh Tomlinson QC were given a rough ride by some Conservative members of the committee who questioned their motives.

Philip Davies said it was "laughable" for Hacked Off to pose as champions of a free press. "You are not here to represent a free press. You're here to represent people who on the one hand court publicity for all it's worth if there's a financial return for them but don't like the negative publicity that sometimes goes with it," he said.

"You're here representing the Hugh Grants of the world. You are not here representing the free press of the world."

But Jim Sheridan (Lab, Paisley & Renfrewshire North) attacked the "exagerated and hysterical response" from some journalists to the proposed royal charter of press regulation.

"This whole question about alleged press freedom being damaged is a complete red herring," he said.

"Self regulation has been tried and failed badly. I don't see any problem with newspapers or journalists being asked to print the truth and if the truth is hurtful, so be it."

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In what appeared to be a reference to some journalists who cover parliament and the activities of MPs, Sheridan added: "What concerns me there are parasitical elements within the press who have abused their position in here, in terms of hiding behind their pens and calling people names."

"I dont understand why they are allowed to come into this place and behave in the way they do. Under these proposals it's not going to stop them behaving the way they behave, but hopefully it will bring some sort of decency to them."

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Cathcart, a professor of journalism at Kingston University, fiercely rejected the accusations that Hacked Off was against a free press and was critical of some newspaper groups for trying to avoid "effective regulation"

"I think that a great deal of the response to this debate - the whole Leveson inquiry - has been hysterical and some of it has involved an abuse of the power of the press," he said.

"The distortion in the reporting of the Leveson inquiry as it progressed was pretty shocking. The distortion in the reporting of the report when it appeared was extraordinary.

"The clear effort of some newspapers to influence public opinion and to protect themselves from more effective regulation by the abuse of the power they have to communicate to the public is further evidence of the need for what Lord Justice Leveson recommended."