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Last Updated: Wednesday, 29 March 2006, 13:17 GMT 14:17 UK
Hoon criticises 'intrusive' media
Geoff Hoon
Mr Hoon says specialist reporters are the least trustworthy
Britain has the most "aggressive, dismissive and intrusive" media in the developed world, House of Commons leader Geoff Hoon has said.

And politicians increasingly did not trust it to report them fairly.

Lord Puttman is calling for a shake-up in the way Parliament communicates with the public - including relaxing strict rules on televising debates.

But Mr Hoon said the changes the peer recommends will not work unless the media cleans up its act.

In a Hansard Society inquiry he chaired last year, Lord Puttnam called for a better Parliament website, an end to archaic language and Westminster's exclusive "club" culture, and a single press office for both Houses of Parliament.

He also wants a greater commitment to covering Parliament to be written into the BBC's next Charter.


Lord Puttnam told MPs on the modernisation committee he had been "depressed" by the level of disengagement with politics among the public.

But if people were allowed to see more of MPs and peers than "yah boo" politics they would see a nation that is "remarkably well governed" and a parliament that deserved respect, he said.

"The public don't know you," said Lord Puttnam who was giving evidence as part of the committee's inquiry into better connecting Parliament and the public.

Lord Puttnam
Lord Puttnam believes Parliament has a good story to tell

"You have an absolute obligation to make sure they understand what you do, understand how very reasonable most of the discussions that take place in Parliament are."

Committee chairman Geoff Hoon said he understood the need for parliament to improve the way it communicates with the public.

But he said Lord Puttnam's report would have been better received in Parliament if it had acknowledged that the media was partly to blame for political disengagement.

"There is not a media in the developed Western world that is as dismissive or as aggressive or as intrusive as ours.

"Enoch Powell famously refused to declare his interests. Wouldn't even fill in the form. It would be interesting to see how modern newspapers would treat him today, given that principled position that he took, as far as he was concerned."

He added: "Increasingly politicians don't trust the media to provide a fair account of what we do."

Lobby system

In his report, Lord Puttnam calls for the strict rules governing the way parliament is televised to be relaxed, to allow filming in corridors rather than just at certain fixed camera positions.

The biggest spinners in our society are journalists - you only have to look at any day's newspapers to see that
Geoff Hoon

Mr Hoon said he could understand why television producers wanted to use "walking shots" rather than repetitive shots of green benches.

But he added: "We do not trust journalists and broadcasters to use that access fairly because we believe that what would happen is that they would simply turn up on every corner and thrust a camera into someone's face at a time when, frankly, they didn't want that kind of intrusion."

Lord Puttnam also called for the lobby system, in which access to MPs is restricted to a group of accredited correspondents, to be relaxed.

He said more specialist journalists, in areas such as health for example, should be allowed access to cover debates, something they found "remarkably difficult" to do at the moment.

"It is absolutely clear there are tensions within the newspapers themselves when specialist coverage is required and they are confronted by the fact that the sketch writer wants to handle the issue," Lord Puttnam added.

Specialist reporters

But Mr Hoon told MPs specialists were the least trustworthy journalists of all, in his experience.

"The biggest spinners in our society are journalists. You only have to look at any day's newspapers to see that.

"From the experience of dealing with a lot of specialists, the specialists are by far the worst.

"They will take a half story somewhere and they will turn it into a controversy or a scandal, really without any effort at all, because they are having to justify their existence to their news editors who are pretty sceptical as to whether they are worth the money."

Mr Hoon told Lord Puttnam the "fair comments" he makes about what parliament can do to improve its communications could never be implemented until the media changed.

"I cannot believe that, say, the Italian public have a better view of the Italian parliament than the British public have of the British Parliament

"Now if that is the case I would be very, very concerned as to why that was. I think my answer largely would be the way our activities are reported."

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