UK Labour Party wants journalism licenses, will prohibit "journalism" by people who are "struck off" the register of licensed journalists

The UK Labour party's conference is underway in Liverpool, and party bigwigs are presenting their proposals for reinvigorating Labour after its crushing defeat in the last election. The stupidest of these proposals to date will be presented today, when Ivan Lewis, the shadow culture secretary, will propose a licensing scheme for journalists through a professional body that will have the power to forbid people who breach its code of conduct from doing journalism in the future.

Given that "journalism" presently encompasses "publishing accounts of things you've seen using the Internet" and "taking pictures of stuff and tweeting them" and "blogging" and "commenting on news stories," this proposal is even more insane than the tradition "journalist licenses" practiced in totalitarian nations.

I'm all for hanging up Murdoch and his phone hackers by their thumbs, but you don't need to license journalists to get that done: all you need to do is prosecute them under existing criminal statutes. In other words, the only "journalism code of conduct" the UK needs to avert another phone hacking scandal is "don't break the law." Of course, it would help if government didn't court favour with the likes of Murdoch, as was the case under Labour (and is the case with today's Tories).

For a party eager to shed its reputation as sinister, spying authoritarians, Labour's really got its head up its arse.

Lewis will suggest that newspapers should introduce a system whereby journalists could be struck off a register for malpractice. And he will question David Cameron's reluctance to explain why he made Andy Coulson, the former News of the World editor, his communications director both in opposition and then in government. He will say: "I believe in second chances too. So, isn't it time you and George Osborne came clean about Andy Coulson?"



  1. I am really disgusted at how much so called “free” countries have eroded some of the basic freedoms.  These freedoms being SPEECH, RELIGION, PRESS, ASSEMBLY and PETITION.

    The solution is to use these freedoms to their fullest.  The People have the power, not some group of elite white rich men but the People are lulled into inaction by many lies and other distractions.  People just have to realize that they indeed have the power.

    “The answer, my friend, is blowing in the wind, the answer is blowing in the wind.”

        1. No, we just hate our reporters. The ‘lack of freedom’ in the press was largely self-served, with most of the media control coming out of a very small cadre (Columbia School of Journalism) and an over-reliance on the AP Union and /nothing else/.   In our case, it isn’t that the government censored and controlled the press, it’s that the press did it to themselves to push forward their own political agenda.  A prime example of the dangers of group think.

      1. The British discussion on controlling freedom fo the press differs only in minor details from the American discussion on controlling the freedom to bear arms.

  2. Only a short step from banning those guilty of  “malpractice” to banning those with dissenting opinions, a la Japan’s Kisha Club system:

    The problem with this system, as with the Kisha Clubs, is that it would overwhelmingly act to discourage criticism and investigative journalism. The Met Police arrested the Guardian journalist who broke the phone hacking scandal; would that count as malpractice?

    The system is as flawed as it is misguided, however. While the Kisha clubs restrict speech on the part of their members, juicy news stories are routinely leaked to journalists who aren’t members. In the same way, there would be nothing to restrict journalists who have been disbarred from the register doing the investigating and then leaking their stories to registered members, as long as anonymous sources are protected.

    So even those disbarred from the register could still work as freelancers, in the pay of the newspapers as anonymous sources, which would result in less accountability, not more.

    An ill-thought-out media strategy from the Labour Party? Whodathunkit?

  3. All I’d like to see is the concept of honesty, integrity and ethics brought back to the field of journalism… 

    1. And that certainly isn’t going to happen by restricting  journalism to politically-connected corporate Goliaths only.  It’s going to happen by virtue of those Goliaths being aware of the fact that an Army of Davids is keeping a very close eye on them.

      h/t professor glenn reynolds

    2. All I’d like to see is the concept of honesty, integrity and ethics brought back to the field of governance.

  4. He did indeed propose it.  Then when it was widely ridiculed by journalists he tried to row back.  Absolute nonsense from Labour.

  5. Funny thing about that… go somewhere, see something, write about it, and tada, you’re a journalist.  Your audience isn’t going to ask for credentials if it’s a good story.

  6. What’s with the straw man, Cory?
    The article – as well as your quote from it – quite clearly states that the proposal is about newspapers, so why are you pretending it’s got anything to do with Twitter?

    1. No straw man–the government already owns censorship rights through the airwaves.  Newspapers are next, and the internet will follow shortly.  You can count it.  When the left finds itself losing in the marketplace of ideas, it works quickly to silence the opposition, in all its forms.  Not unusual for leftists.  Their whole ideology requires a set of parameters that have to be artificially created and maintained in order for their schemes to make sense, much less, work.

      1. No straw man–the government already owns censorship rights through the airwaves.  Newspapers are next, and the internet will follow shortly.  You can count it.  When the left finds itself losing in the marketplace of ideas, it works quickly to silence the opposition, in all its forms.  Not unusual for leftists.  Their whole ideology requires a set of parameters that have to be artificially created and maintained in order for their schemes to make sense, much less, work.

        Well, it’s not a straw man now, but only because you’ve dumped a haystack on top of it. There’s nothing wrong with questioning motives, but reaching for the most paranoid misinterpretation possible as a reflex suggests you haven’t quite got the hang of this thinking business and probably aren’t much fun at parties.

        1. Most paranoid?  Based on the political correctness run amok I’ve seen in Europe over the past decade, I’d say it’s a rather conservative interpretation of how far the left will go.  And I think the “thinking business” in your case was bankrupt a while back.  And I’m a hoot at parties–I just don’t mistake ridicule for humor or snarky for smart, so I probably wouldn’t fit in with your crowd, for sure.

      2. Uh, the Left? I seem to recall it was the Conservative Right(!) in the USA under Bush who were calling newspaper editors and having them hush up a lot of stories and curtail investigations. I don’t think it’s a left/right issue, I think it’s more about whether the group in question values freedom of expression/thought/reporting vs trying to control everything. Open journalism is arguably quite messy, but closed journalism is worse.

        1. The American Left (specifically, the New York Times) was openly printing battle-plans and classified military secrets with the express purpose of undermining the war in Iraq. There was no intent to ‘inform the American public’ about these things, but rather deliberately cost us a war in favor of left-wing politics and to hurt a sitting Republican president.  If you’ll notice, these stories all mysteriously ‘went away’ the moment that Obama got elected.

          1. “…but rather deliberately cost us a war in favor of…”

            First, do I understand that you believe the NYT “lost” the various wars we entered into during the Bush years?  Maybe you’d like to provide some evidence (as in credible, verifiable evidence) of this…or would that avenue be off limits because of its proximity to Academia (specifically, the American Left)?  As an aside, I’m curious what you thought of the Pentagon Papers.
            Secondly, please do let us know what particular battle plans were leaked by the American Left or the NYT.  Or were you writing about Wikileaks?  Maybe “battle plans” is a euphemism for “anything the government doesn’t think should be released because our citizens don’t need to know what we’re doing with their money, especially if it has to do with war”?
            You’ve got quite the haystack being built in that paragraph.

    2. Seriously, Stooge? You don’t think that there isn’t some ‘chomping at the bit’ to expand the powers once the Newspapers have to go to the politburo for permission to speak?

      1. Seriously, Stooge? You don’t think that there isn’t some ‘chomping at the bit’ to expand the powers once the Newspapers have to go to the politburo for permission to speak?

        What politburo and whose permission? Could you point out the bit of the policy that says the government gets to decide who is and is not fit to write for a newspaper? I mean a real, actual policy and not one that’s been conjured up homoeopathically from a single phrase in a draft of an undelivered speech that’s been diluted several million times in paranoid hysteria.

        Lots of trades have regulatory bodies. Does the General Medical Council wield its powers to silence dissenting political views? Does the Institute of Plumbers and Heating Engineers exist to ensure the chap who fixes your boiler adheres to party doctrine? Perhaps naively, I take the view that such bodies exist to ensure compliance with minimum standards of ethics and competence which the courts are either ill-suited for or incapable of addressing, and that in principle at least, that is what they do. Can you explain to me why it is that, when it comes to newspapers, any proposal for a regulatory body can be safely dismissed as an Orwellian nightmare even before any specific details at all are known? For my part, I’d much rather criticise an actual policy than play at imagining the worst possible policy I can think of and then taking potshots at that.

  7. So the state licenses those allowed to check and report its doings, while all others must remain silent….You gotta wonder wether this is sheer stupidity, deliberate evil or deliberate evil employing sheer stupidity to do its dirty work.

  8. Hmmm. Not much thoughtful commentary here. Cory’s reaction, along with most of the posters so far seems just as knee-jerk as the proposal y’all are reacting to.

    First up, we clearly have a problem. Newspapers have, en mass, abandoned ethical principles, and will print any old crap that they think will sell. At a time when the world faces massive challenges in areas such as misuse of corporate power, corrupt politicians, poverty, lack of social justice, climate change, etc., our newspapers are failing us miserably by printing lies about most of these problems. Especially climate change.

    Holding newspapers (in particularly) to a higher standard is a perfectly laudable goal. There might be a lot wrong with the idea of a government ramming a licensing scheme down their throat, but a slight twist, and you could have a professional body that provides an ethics accreditation that journalists can earn, such that newspapers would then be proud to boast how many of their journalists adhere to the higher standards. Like an engineering licensing board, there would have to be some real teeth, so journalists could be stripped of their licence for malpractice. And of course, some sort of due process for deciding malpractice cases.

    Most of what’s needed to hold newspapers to a higher standard isn’t covered by existing law. It’s not illegal to present ideology as truth, to distort science, and to selectively ignore stories that matter in favour of popcorn. An professional licensing scheme wouldn’t fix these problems instantly, but it might start to repair the current broken system that passes for the mainstream media right now.  

  9. This smacks of McCarthyism.  Be a good little anti-Communist drone or you will be blacklisted.  At first glance, this would seem like a good idea as journalistic hatchetmen would not then have a leg to stand on, but the ramifications go much further than simple service to the public.  What happens when a license is denied due to political affiliation?  This is just a means for the state to control what is printed.

  10. The only sense I can make of politics in both the US and UK these days is that the people who are making the laws must also be the ones holding all the stock in pitchfork and torch factories, because they are working overtime pushing good people tightly back into bad corners.

  11. I think that the problem is not so much that something should be done. It is the overkill and panic that will cause erosion in people’s rights.
    What has happened again and again is that some company X does something so hideous that everyone panics and says “WE NEED LAWS FOR THIS”. Then the laws get written they are  highly intrusive and restrictive. People (the ones most affected) realize what is going on and complain, but everyone has moved on. The laws once looked at much more closely actually favor the ones who messed everything up to begin with.
    As an example look at the US’s CPSIA, the law was to get those rascals that added lead to toys. What we got instead is a law which has closed down a large portion of small companies and in home businesses that would have never allowed crap out of their businesses. Meanwhile the company that got the whole thing started was allowed to police itself

  12. Lewis’s comment is vague and brief, but here it is:

    It’s the age-old government lament and has always been a stupid idea. If anything, you’d get British media being unable to report or even acknowledge things that readers can easily find on the websites of foreign or even Scottish media. The super-injunctions are (were) a prime example.

    Dirty Digger and Dirty Des (I’ve been reading *way* too much Private Eye) got as powerful as they did because both the Tories and (New) Labour sucked up to them. The existing standards body is toothless and a new one would be as well. It undermines their credibility when the objects of their scrutiny are being entertained at No. 10 or at the country place.

    And I like how Lewis thinks footballers are overpaid but expresses no opinion on whether club owners are too rich. Can’t alienate potential big donors, after all.

    New Labour, same old crap.

  13. It is obvious that Labor is promoting revolution, but not the kind they would expect.  The only real alternative to talking is fighting.  If you are against free speech, you are calling for armed conflict.

  14. Those who think that getting upset over this is just nerdrage miss a crucial point — if you make “journalist” a licensed profession, you basically create a situation in which it can be criminal to “report news” if you don’t have a license. This means that broadcasting video of the cops beating someone, or of a politician leaving a whorehouse, or the scores of a sporting event, or darn near anything that even arguably qualifies as “news”, could be criminal — just as performing surgery or flying an airplane without a license is, and for far less reason. I don’t know about UK law, but American law does not recognize or authorize anyone as a “journalist” or require any kind of permission to publish and distribute news (and the Supreme Court has ruled the Internet is entitled to the highest level of First Amendment protection, meaning, it’s considered in the same class as newspapers and the like when it comes to how high a bar the government must reach to regulate it); there exist libel and slander laws to control any true harm that might be done. The idea that “publishing news without a license” could be a crime in any nation claiming to be part of the Western Liberal tradition ought to be disturbing to anyone with a brain, and it’s a bit terrifying to hear so many people going “But… but… Murdoch! Murdoch BAD! Need laws! Stop bad Murdoch!”

    Honestly, I think this has less to do with any kind of “quality control” of the news, and is more of a last ditch attempt by “professional” journalists to preserve their privilege in an age when the events of the day are more likely to reported on by some guy with a cell phone than by some scotch-drinking, cigar-smoking, profanity-spewing guy with three days stubble pounding the keys on his manual typewriter. The job of the “journalist” now is not reporting news, really — it’s analyzing and contextualizing news, an entirely different thing. I don’t read the (online) papers to find out what’s happening, I read them to find out what it means — or at least what various people think it means. 

  15. Why does everyone assume that you wouldn’t be allowed to report things if you aren’t a journalist?

    Especially as that wasn’t the proposal.

    Anyone would be allowed to report anything they liked.  They just wouldn’t be allowed to call themselves a journalist unless they were.

    It would be like the British regulation of lawyers, not the American version (in Britain, we don’t have a law against the unauthorised practice of law, so anyone can give legal advice – they just can’t call themselves a lawyer when doing so unless a qualified member in good standing of one of the legal professions).

    “Citizen’s reporters” would still be allowed, they just wouldn’t be journalists.

    If a newspaper wanted to say “every story checked by a journalist” then they could.  If they got a competitive advantage from doing so, then they would.

    Yes, it might mean that you had to get the necessary qualifications before you could work for certain newspapers.  Would that be a bad thing, in the light of the Johann Hari case?

  16. I’m all for this, its a great idea, as long as politicians are required to have a license as well and can be “stuck off” for malpractice, neglecting their constituents or just plain ‘ol corruption.

  17. Labour’s quite possibly dead. They’re being pushed out by national parties in Alba and Cymru, and Ed ‘The Robot’ Miliband has just alienated actual labor groups by opposing a national strike. Between that and state surveillance of recycling bins, is there anybody that they haven’t pissed off?

  18. It seems almost all of our modern ills begin with the granting of licenses by government.  Note that one of the most contentious aspects of reform in Greece is the pending de-protection of 133 professions.  The granting of licenses whereby government imposes limits on entry to any profession creates artificial scarcity and causes labor inflation in those sectors of the economy where the interference begins. Folks in other sectors, seeing the successful regulatory capture in those sectors, and wishing to recreate the “improvement” in their own, then seek to recapitulate this strategy in their own. Newspapers are dying. The “profession” of journalism is dying as well. This is a strategy to create artificial scarcity in the gathering and dissemination of news. It is just as evil as all the other licensing schemes that have gone on before.

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