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EXCLUSIVE: Standards Commissioner rules four journalists broke Parliament’s rules

25 January 2010 , , , , , ,

The Parliamentary Commissioner for Standards, John Lyon, has ruled that Martin Bright, Melissa Kite, Andrew Neil and Fraser Nelson all broke Parliamentary rules by failing to fully declare their financial interests in the Register of Journalists’ Interests.

They have all been lobby journalists, giving them special access to Parliament and politicians. Given the possibility of lobbyists and interest groups paying members of the lobby to raise issues on their behalf, there is a financial register which – in theory – provides a degree of transparency and hence protection against abuse of the system. Parliament’s rules require lobby journalists to declare the sources of their income, where the income is based on their access to Parliament.

However, all four failed to enter accurate records on the register. It was not simply a matter of missing the 28 days deadline required, but the register has contained information that is out of date by months, and even in the cases of Andrew Neil and Fraser Nelson by years. As an updated version of the register is published each month, it should have been repeatedly obvious that the rules were not being followed.

Of the four, Fraser Nelson no longer has a lobby pass. The Standards Commissioner has decided that for the other three for the next year their entry on the register will be marked to show that it has been corrected following a complaint.

In each case the records that were not updated reflect journalistic employment, rather than payments from third parties such as lobbyists, though their own failure to follow Parliament’s rules does contrast with the frequent demands in the media that MPs should follow Parliament’s own rules not just to the letter but beyond.

John Lyon is also asking the secretary to the Parliamentary Press Gallery to remind all journalists with lobby passes of their need to follow the rules.

UPDATE: Martin Bright received his copy of the ruling before I saw it I suspect as he blogged about it over the weekend, with a good humoured headline and post, concluding: “Despite my initial annoyance, I think it is only right and proper that journalists should be held to account in this way. If we are to pass judgement on the conduct of MPs then we should understand that we are not immune to scrutiny ourselves.”

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