Ivan Lewis Labour

Ivan Lewis speaking at the Labour Party conference on Tuesday

Credit: Dave Thompson/PA

The Labour party has been heavily criticised by journalists and press freedom groups after shadow culture minister Ivan Lewis suggested that journalists guilty of "gross malpractice" should be "struck off".

The controversial comment came during the shadow minister's party conference speech, amid calls for stricter press regulation and tougher cross-media ownership laws in the wake of the phone-hacking scandal.

Lewis, who was trending on Twitter in the UK as users criticised his proposal, later defended the suggestion on the social networking site:

"Journalism is a highly respected profession. Why shouldn't journalists found to have commissioned or engaged in phone hacking be struck off?"

He also clarified that he was not proposing that journalists should be licensed by the state but by the industry itself.

"I said industry should consider whether gross malpractice should lead to a journalist being struck off and I oppose state oversight of press."

Speaking to Journalism.co.uk, Jo Glanville, editor of Index on Censorship, called the proposal "massively retroactive" and "thoroughly unworkable".

"The idea is also complicated by journalism's online revolution," she said.

"Nowadays we see people fulfilling the role of the the journalist without working for a mainstream press outlet, the whole definition of who is a journalist is up in the air.

"So not only is Lewis' idea an attack on fundamental press freedom, it is completely unworkable".

Michelle Stanistreet, general secretary of the National Union of Journalists, said it was "
depressing to hear a Labour Party shadow minister call for the blacklisting of journalists".

"Ivan Lewis told Labour Party conference today that journalists found guilty of ‘gross malpractice’ should be struck off.  He has since back-peddled, claiming not to approve of state meddling in press freedom but that’s precisely what his ridiculous statement amounts to.

"Is he actually calling for a state-approved register of journalists, one where politicians or media owners can strike through names at their will?"

Writing on Twitter shortly after the speech, Labour MP Tom Harris, who is campaigning to be the party's candidate for first minister in Scotland, accused Lewis of "really bad politics".

"Harks back to 1980s. Who gets to decide whether you can practice as a journalist other than your employer?

Harris added: "
If a journalist commits a serious misdemeanour, they can already be sacked. Why would any government or party want to get involved with this?"

During his speech, Lewis also called for a "new system of independent regulation including proper like for like redress which means mistakes and falsehoods on the front page receive apologies and retraction on the front page".

He also warned organisations such as News International, in the wake of the phone-hacking scandal, that "
never again can one commercial organisation have so much power and control over our media".

Addressing a "
message to Mr. Murdoch", Lewis said: "Your newspapers and Sky TV are popular with millions of British people. Some people in our movement might find that uncomfortable but it’s true.

"However, and yes Conference, we should have said this a long time ago. Mr Murdoch, never again think you can assert political power in the pursuit of your commercial interests or ideological beliefs.

"This is Britain, Mr Murdoch. The integrity of our media and our politics is not for sale."

Lewis also called on David Cameron and George Osborne to "come clean" about the appointment of former News of the World editor Andy Coulson as the Conservative Party's director of communications.
Responding to Lewis' attacks on Murdoch, Michelle Stanistreet called on politicians to "remember that they, more than anyone, indulged the worst excesses of Rupert Murdoch". 

"This is the time to right the wrongs of the past, to raise standards across the industry and, crucially, to tackle the widespread problems of media ownership in the UK.

"Journalists and press freedom absolutely must not be scapegoated in the search for higher standards or for the sake of political soundbites."

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