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Ivan Lewis, Labour Media Spokesman, Proposes Controversial Media Reform Over Phone Hacking

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IVAN LEWIS
PA

LIVERPOOL, England -- Amid a tabloid phone hacking scandal that has shaken Britain, the country's main opposition Labour Party on Tuesday suggested reporters guilty of malpractice could be banned from working as media professionals.

Proposing tough reforms of the news industry's system of self governance, Labour lawmaker Ivan Lewis said Britain's media needed new scrutiny similar to the rules which govern medicine.

"As in other professions, the industry should consider whether people guilty of gross malpractice should be struck off," Lewis told the party's annual convention.

The phone hacking scandal has already forced the closure of the 168-year-old News of the World tabloid, and seen the resignation of top police officers and media executives.

A police inquiry has so far arrested 16 people – though one person has already been exonerated – and seen media mogul Rupert Murdoch brought before a parliamentary committee to explain the actions of his employees.

Lewis said the crisis over reporters and private detectives illegally obtaining cell phone voicemail messages had exposed the limitations of current press scrutiny.

Britain's media watchdog, the Press Complaints Commission, is funded by the industry itself and can demand a newspaper publishes an apology, but has no power to issue fines.

"We need 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," Lewis told the rally in the northern England city of Liverpool.

Critics said that in order to "strike off" reporters, the media industry would need a professional register like the list held by the General Medical Council, which licenses and monitors the performance of doctors.

"This is another half-baked idea from a weak Labour leadership – we need a free, fair press, not some state registry for journalists," said Louise Mensch, a lawmaker with the governing Conservative Party and member of Parliament's culture, media and sport committee.

In his major address to the Labour Party convention, leader Ed Miliband told delegates that media malpractice was part of a wider problem in British society.

Bankers pursuing risky trades, rioters who joined looting during unrest in England last month and lawmakers exposed in 2009 over their wild expense claims all shared the same lack of regard for others, he said.

Miliband described what he termed a "something for nothing culture – take what you can, fill your boots, who cares as long as you can get away it?"

He said Britain too often rewarded "not the right people with the right values, but the wrong people with the wrong values."

In addition to his party's plan to reform the media, Miliband vowed to overhaul his party's poor record on the economy and to offer an alternative plan to stimulate growth.

"I am determined to prove to you that the next Labour Government will only spend what it can afford. That we will live within our means, that we will manage your money properly," Miliband pledged.

The Labour Party was ousted from office in May 2010 after 13 years in power, wounded by the global financial crisis, public resentment over the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan and ex-prime minister Gordon Brown's unpopularity.

Miliband replaced Brown as party leader following a surprise narrow victory over his elder brother David – Britain's former foreign secretary – in a leadership contest last year.

He told the convention he would remold his party to represent ordinary people who were appalled by greedy legislators, sneaky journalists or rampaging rioters.

"It's about the people who don't make a fuss, who don't hack phones, loot shops, fiddle their expenses, or earn telephone number salaries at the banks," Miliband said.

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Stringer reported from London.

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