Ivan Lewis’s journalism register ‘totalitarian’

Talking Point: the only code of conduct UK journalists need is ‘don’t break the law’

Ivan Lewis

SHADOW culture secretary Ivan Lewis's proposal that journalists guilty of "gross malpractice" be "struck off" has, unsurprisingly, been condemned by journalists as totalitarian and insane. Unworkable and totalitarian

Conference season is barely half-way through, but already we have a strong contender for the most thunderously idiotic and ill-thought-through proposal of the year, blogged Tom Chivers for the Daily Telegraph. Lewis may be right to say that there have been "utterly appalling examples of malpractice within our trade" such as the phone hacking scandal, but "the idea of a journalists register is preposterous" not to mention having "a faint whiff of totalitarianism". The best way to punish untrustworthy journalists, and their employers, is to make sure everybody knows who they are, Chivers adds. "Will anybody trust Hari's writing now that they know where he gets his quotes from?" Journalists are not doctors

My response is bafflement, mixed with queasy foreboding, says Helen Lewis Hasteley in the New Statesman. Journalists are not doctors. They don't need professional qualifications or provide specific professional services like prescribing medicine. Journalists' everyday activities are more nebulous: talking to people, writing, researching.

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• Ivan Lewis should be careful what he wishes for...Then we get to the idea of a "register" of journalists (which the idea of "striking off" implies). Who would administer such a register? I know that Lewis's language is vague and there is no firm commitment, Hasteley adds, "but when an idea is this bad, why float it at all?" Too many trades are licensed as it is, says Alex Massie in the New Statesman. There comes a point at which occupational licensing ceases to offer guarantees to consumers and becomes a way of restraining trade, "protecting those already inside at the expense of those who would like to make a living". Just don't break the law

Given that "journalism" presently encompasses "publishing accounts of things you've seen using the internet" and "taking pictures of stuff and tweeting them" this proposal is even more insane than the tradition of "journalist licenses" practiced in totalitarian nations, says Cory Doctorow on Boingboing. I'm all for hanging up Murdoch and his phone hackers by their thumbs, but you don't need to register journalists to get that done. The only "journalism code of conduct" the UK needs to avert another phone hacking scandal is "don't break the law".

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