- Published: Thursday, 29 September 2011 18:45
- Written by Jonathan Walker
This was the question raised by Ivan Lewis, Labour's Shadow Culture Secretary, during the Labour conference.
His suggestion was that journalists should be officially accredited and "struck off", as he put it, if they behave badly.
He said: "Neither the current broken system of self regulation or state oversight will achieve the right balance.
"We need a new system of independent regulation including proper like for like redress which means mistakes and falsehoods on the front page receive apologies and retraction on the front page. And as in other professions the industry should consider whether people guilty of gross malpractice should be struck off."
Clearly, as a journalist, this is a topic I have a personal interest in, and I may be biased. But let me offer some thoughts.
Firstly, this form of regulation would never have prevented phone hacking, nor the practice of paying police officers for information. People who are willing to break the law are not going to be worried about being struck off a register if they aren't worried about going to jail.
Secondly, many complaints people have about the press have nothing to do with individual journalists.
For example, if a reporter makes a mistake, it is their editor - not the reporter - who decides which page the correction goes on. So there's little point threatening the reporter with being "struck off" if the correction is sneaked into a little corner of page 19.
Finally, I don't see how any system could be created which applied to what we traditionally call newspapers but not to what we traditionally call blogs. Would material on www.guardian.co.uk or my own newspaper's site www.birminghampost.net be regulated, for example, but not material on a website which also reported the news but which called itself a blog?
One answer would be to make the whole thing optional. I could register as a journalist while Paul Staines - the entrepreneur behind the successful order-order.com website, known by his nom de plume Guido Fawkes - could play the maverick and remain outside the system.
But if remaining unregistered was an option, it's one that I, and I suspect many other journalists, might want to take up too. Being unregistered sounds a lot more fun.