Ivan Lewis energized freethinkers everywhere today by proposing that the naughty U.K. press be reined in by “a new system of independent regulation.” In his speech to the Labour Party conference, the Labour shadow culture secretary called for the press to “consider whether people guilty of gross malpractice should be struck off,” by which he meant banned from the practice of journalism.
The U.K. press immediately roared back—all but accusing Lewis of campaigning for a cabinet position as Minister of Censorship. Lewis then retreated on Twitter. “I said industry should consider whether gross malpractice should lead to a journo being struck off and i oppose state oversight of press,” he wrote.
By the end of the day, Lewis was backpedaling faster, telling the BBC, “I regret the fact that there has been a response to something that I didn’t say.”
Yeah, yeah, Ivan, but I think we got your message the first time: When a scandal swallows police, newspaper executives, media moguls, private detectives, the prime minister, and journalists, your remedy would not be jail time for those who broke existing laws. What you want is a special “independent” body that would ostracize and shun the rotten journalists. Maybe even build a leper colony for them.
But as Helen Lewis-Hasteley writes on the New Statesman website today, no mechanism exists in the U.K. to disbar or otherwise “strike off” a rotten journalist. The news profession doesn’t accredit journalists—they’re not like doctors or lawyers or accountants with specific professional qualifications! It follows that there’s no industry-wide consensus on what constitutes gross journalistic malpractice. Likewise, the U.K. has no power to create a registry to prevent rotten journalists from practicing their craft, which means implementing Lewis’ modest proposal would require a law spanning all print and electric media. You’d have to govern the U.K. the way the Communist Party governs China if you wanted to appoint guardians to stand at the gates of the Web to prevent shamed individuals from setting up blogs or otherwise expressing themselves.