By AUDREY YOUNG political editor

MPs became prickly over television coverage of their last pay increase after news media representatives sought yesterday to liberalise rules about cameras operating in Parliament.

The Press Gallery and the Commonwealth Press Union (CPU) appeared jointly before MPs on the standing orders committee, which is reviewing the rules under which Parliament operates.

Strict rules govern the use of cameras in the House. Television cameras are given a little more freedom than stills photographers - who are supposed to snap MPs only when they are speaking.

The Evening Post was temporarily banned in 2000 after running a photograph of an MP yawning during a marathon sitting on the Employment Relations Bill.

Both submissions yesterday sought to have the rules liberalised in order that any MP could be filmed or photographed at any time while Parliament was sitting and that cameras would have the same access rights as reporters in the parliamentary complex.

The Press Gallery wants to have certain areas of Parliament, such as the main foyer, declared free-filming zones instead of having to seek the permission of the Speaker to film or take photographs.

Deputy Prime Minister Michael Cullen questioned Press Gallery chairman and One News political editor Mark Sainsbury about recent coverage given to MPs' pay rises.

A One News item began with the song We're in the Money and was illustrated with a library clip of three New Zealand First MPs, including Dail Jones, laughing "uproariously".

Dr Cullen also referred to a television news clip in the 1980s during an abortion debate at a Labour conference which had a shot of former Labour leader Sir Wallace Rowling laughing.

Speaker Jonathan Hunt said some of the coverage of the pay increase had been grossly inaccurate.

New Zealand First deputy leader Peter Brown said he had never made a submission for one extra cent "and the inference you gave to the public was quite the opposite".

He had been to Britain recently and been told by MPs to resist televising Parliament: "It encourages the outrageous, it undermines the state, the monarchy, and Parliament itself."

Lincoln Gould for the CPU said similar comments had probably been made in 1936 when New Zealand started radio broadcasts of Parliament.

Greens co-leader Rod Donald said: "I actually want to know I can walk from my office to the toilet without a camera being shoved in my face."

Act MP Stephen Franks was concerned at the effect of the present rules which allow cameras in the public sessions of select committees.

"In my experience work doesn't really get done while they are there," Mr Franks said.

"People preen and posture but wait for the camera to go, to get back to ... deliberating."

The Commonwealth Press Union submission said the media should enjoy the right to operate in all public areas of Parliament and should be able to film proceedings in the chamber without restriction.

"It is the public's right to know what transpires at the centre of the democratic processes under which they are governed."

The CPU concurred with an Australian newspaper editorial which said: "Our MPs need reminding that Parliament is neither reality TV show set, private home nor exclusive escape where they can evade scrutiny by limiting reasonable coverage of themselves.

"It is the people's chamber, an institution that lies at the heart of our democracy."

* Disclosure: Audrey Young helped to write the Press Gallery submission as deputy chairperson.