Regulation of press: a threat to our freedom

There’s a document doing the rounds in NUJ circles – and you might want to sit down before reading it.

Entitled
Regulating Journalists, it is a consultation paper intended to
kickstart debate on whether there should be some form of control over
those who practice the craft.

It argues that trades such as gas
fitting and professions such as insurance broking all require some form
of regulation. The same should therefore apply to journalism, an
unregulated job title open to “charlatans, miscreants and snake oil
salesmen”.

Ignoring the fact that the Government has consistently
repeated that it has no intention of doing any such thing, the paper
states that “journalism will be regulated, and the names of approved
journalists are likely to be held on a central register at some point
in the near future”.

And in a phrase that brings to mind the days
of the closed shop, it suggests the NUJ should “help shape and support”
such a system.

The document sets out four options for a
regulatory framework, in which journalists’ numbers are controlled by
various means. The fourth suggests a state-appointed regulator. Perhaps
we could ask a trusted and respected figure such as Lord Hutton to do
it, if he’s not too busy.

There is an inherent arrogance at the heart of this.

The
suggestion that only the select few – approved by an even more select
elite – can be trusted to tell an awed public the truth, strikes at the
heart of a sacrosanct freedom of the press that has served this country
well for more than 300 years.

Journalism – and its practitioners
– aren’t always pretty, but neither is the society which they have to
reflect. By all means, let us have the debate.

But in the end,
all this paper manages to prove is that self-regulation, about which it
is so dismissive, is like Winston Churchill’s depiction of democracy:
“The worst form of government – except for all those others that have
been tried.”

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