STOP THE PRESS; Absurd Call to Shut Down Papers with Privacy Law ..by MP Who Is King of the Junkets A Free Press Is Vital in a Democracy. Self-Regulation Is the Best System - TESSA JOWELL While We Suggest a Privacy Law, We Support Principle of Self-Regulation - GERALD KAUFMAN
Byline: PAUL GILFEATHER, Whitehall Editor
A DESPERATE bid by a group of MPs to gag the press collapsed in chaos yesterday as ministers threw out their ludicrous plan.
The Government had been urged to bring in a new privacy law by the Commons Culture, Media and Sport Committee.
One if its members, Labour MP Derek Wyatt - dubbed "king of the sporting junkets" because he enjoys so many perks - even wanted newspapers accused of invading people's lives to be banned from publishing for a day.
Globetrotting Mr Wyatt once complained of suffering from deep vein thrombosis in his leg after a long-haul flight back to Britain following a "fact finding" jaunt in Malawi.
Yesterday, Culture Secretary Tessa Jowell rejected the committee's findings, saying: "The Government continues to believe that a free press is vital in a democracy and that self-regulation is the best regulatory system."
The group of MPs, chaired by former Labour minister Gerald Kaufman, was slammed last week for blowing pounds 30,000 of taxpayers' cash on a junket to Hollywood, as part of an inquiry into the British film industry.
They stayed in the lavish Chateau Marmont on Sunset Boulevard and visited the set of the TV sitcom Friends. The committee put forward a raft of recommendations in its report, entitled Privacy and Media Intrusion.
It argued that new legislation would allow ordinary people - not just the "great and the good" - to pursue a complaint against a newspaper through the courts.
The committee went on: "This is necessary fully to satisfy the obligations upon the UK under the European Convention of Human Rights."
It called for an end to "media scrums" and door-stepping, where journalists call at people's houses. It demanded a new league table monitoring the behaviour of newspapers, and fixed compensation awards for victims. But it was ex-England rugby player Mr Wyatt's call to stop newspaper presses that stunned even his own committee members at a press conference to launch the report.
Asked what punishment might be dished out to offending newspapers, Mr Wyatt said: "What do you do? How about maybe not allowing them to publish the next day?"
Another committee member, Michael Fabricant said: "I personally would oppose anything that stopped publication of a newspaper. Freedom of the press is what makes this country great."
Mr Kaufman added: "We wouldn't dream of recommending any such thing."
There was further confusion when Mr Kaufman said that, despite the call for new laws, he still backed the current system of self-regulation.
He said: "While at the end we do suggest a privacy law, nevertheless we support the principles of self-regulation. …