The Chairman of the National Association of Press Agencies (NAPA) has called on freelance journalists to boycott the Independent in protest at its refusal to pay a news agency for one of its stories.

Jon Harris accused the online publication – which is not signed up to a press regulator - of behaving like the ‘’operators of a Dickensian workhouse’’ after it used without payment, court copy which had been filed to another website by North Wales based journalist Glyn Bellis.

In a statement to the UKPG earlier this week the Independent admitted sourcing Bellis’ copy from Wales online but claimed it didn’t have to pay his agency for it as the story had ‘’been written in our own words.’’

The publication insisted there was ‘’no copyright on news’’ before proclaiming its own website had notched up a daily average of 6,577,317 unique browsers.

This week Harris branded the Independent’s comments as ‘’obscene’’ and said other NAPA members had reported similar issues with the publication.

He said: ‘’The Independent is about as sanctimonious as it gets when it comes to reporting on social issues and high journalistic standards yet their newsdesk appears to treat potential contributors like the poor residents of a Dickensian workhouse.

‘’On Tuesday it splashed on a story about unpaid carers being driven to ‘breaking point’ due to them working for five years without a day off and without any money. Yet just a day earlier the same publication had happily justified a journalist going unpaid for his own hard work, whilst bragging somewhat callously that its daily unique browsers had gone up to the multiple millions. It all smacks of rank hypocrisy.

‘’The reality is freelance and agency journalists have to live off their wits every day.

‘’They don’t get the benefit of advertising or license fee payers cash like newspapers, broadcasters and websites and more often than not will work long hours on a speculative basis to find those big and highly relevant stories that bring a daily newslist to life. For them getting paid and scratching a living relies purely on them finding those stories and getting them published.

‘’Journalists are of course entitled to follow up news stories filed by others but as long as they do their own work on it such as getting extra background, extra quotes and extra pictures. Bashing the original version around a bit doesn’t cut the mustard anymore.

''Lifting court copy wholesale is not only irresponsible journalism but unethical and should have no place in today’s post-Leveson news gathering operations.

‘’The Independent is simply preying on the good nature of journalists working at the coalface on a speculative basis so they can steal content and improve their own figures to justify charging more for advertising. It’s quite obscene.’’

‘’Since the story emerged about Bellis News Agency other NAPA members have come forward to tell of similar experiences with the Independent. Many no longer file to them due to their refusal to pay whilst another has even cancelled his subscription to the publication because of its attitude towards freelancers. I hope many others will follow his example.’’

In its statement to UKPG, the Independent said: ‘’We based our report – written in our own words – written in our own words – on material previously published on the Wales Online website, as our piece made clear (with a link back to the Wales Online piece). There is no copyright in news and we have not acted improperly.

“The suggestion that our position is connected with our status as a digital publisher is plainly without foundation. We are proud of our standards and of the progress which saw the Independent reach an average 6,577,317 unique browsers daily in May.”