Labour’s Shadow Culture Secretary, Ivan Lewis, provoked justified protest when he suggested journalists should be licensed, meaning they could then be struck off and banned from working, should they misbehave.
But within hours Ed Miliband was forced to disown the policy. Critics warned it would turn Britain into a banana republic in which ministers were able to silence awkward members of the Press.
Lewis, who has in the past faced embarrassing revelations in newspapers about his own private life, told the conference the phone-hacking scandal meant the media could no longer be trusted to regulate itself. He said existing media self-regulation was broken.
Lewis suggested journalists should be licensed to practise, in a similar way to doctors. Any reporter found guilty of gross malpractice could then be struck off and barred from having their words published.
Former Labour adviser Dan Hodges suggested the proposal must be a bad joke: On the day of the leader’s speech we announce the state banning of journalists. Labour is ceasing to exist as a serious political party.
Tory MP Philip Davies said: Once the Government starts involving itself in the regulation of the media, that is a very slippery slope, he said. It is the kind of thing that happens in Third World dictatorships. We need a free Press and self-regulation, that is the cornerstone of a free society and democracy.
The Lewis speech sparked panic in Ed Miliband’s office, with aides insisting the idea of striking off journalists had not been cleared with the Labour leader. A senior party source claimed: We’re not in the business of regulating journalists. We have always said self-regulation is the best policy.