“Come back John Wilkes. Your work is about to be undone. Politicians are losing the plot.”

Well, some politicians.  Specifically, the Labour Party’s shadow culture secretary, Ivan Lewis, MP, who is calling for suggesting a register of professional journalists.  So they can be “struck off” if they transgress.  As Roy Greenslade comments

Lewis and the cheering delegates in Liverpool need to understand the danger of their position.

Look at the contradiction at the heart of Lewis’s crowd-pleasing speech. At one point he said: “In Britain, a free press is non-negotiable.”

At another, when demanding “a new system of independent regulation” he said: “As in other professions, the industry should consider whether people guilty of gross malpractice should be struck off.”

Struck off from what? Though he did not use the words “licence” or “register”, the implication that he favours such a system is clear. Freedom, it appears, is negotiable after all.

Look at countries where newspapers and/or journalists are licensed. Do we want to end up like Robert Mugabe‘s Zimbabwe or King Khalifa’s Bahrain or President Nazarbayev’s Kazakhstan?

Licensing publications inevitably means that governments hold the whip hand, though the internet now makes fools of all dictators (as the Arab Spring revolts illustrated).

Now travel a little further along the Lewis freedom road. Who should decide on who should be struck off? And what crimes should they have committed to warrant losing their licences?

The BBC report quotes Scottish Labour MP, Tom Harris.

“Why would any government or party want to get involved with this?”

Why, indeed?  The Professor has a sceptical cynical take

I’d suggest that they read the Areopagitica, but they are undoubtedly both ignorant of, and contemptuous of, the English-speaking world’s long opposition to press licensing. But the fact that press censorship is part of their strategy after being defeated crushingly tells you a lot about both their connection to reality, and their core instincts.

And, from Instapundit’s opening link, Cory Doctorow at BoingBoing

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.

Indeed.

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