If it smells like regulation,…

Cross-posted from Lewisham NUJ

National Union of Journalists president Donnacha DeLong has in Ceasefire Magazine defended in strong and in part intemperate tones the NUJ executive’s submission on Tuesday of this week to the Leveson Inquiry into press ethics. The testimony of general secretary Michelle Stanistreet and ethics council chair Chris Frost concerns statutory and self-regulation of the press.

I have little sympathy with the proposals being put forward for a “statutory backstop”, and am unconvinced by the argument being spun for a system of control that looks very much like active state regulation, or could soon develop into such. More cynically, I understand the political need to be seen to be reacting constructively to the current hyperbolic criticism of the media, regurgitated as it is with such enthusiasm by the, er, media.

The NUJ submission to Leveson contains an assertion without caveat that “self-regulation has failed”. This could cause us considerable difficulty at the NUJ conference in October, when we come to discuss media business models, community goods and public subsidies. I can see where this debate is headed, and it gives me the willies. State capitalism appears to be becoming less and less capitalistic, and far more statist, and we are in danger of blurring beyond recognition the distinction between state and civil society. Allow this situation to continue, and the consequences for the open society are grave.

The following mantra should be burned indelibly into the synapses of every junior hack…

“Journalism is not a profession. It is a trade.”

This distinction is critical to the debate around media regulation and control, but as a trade body we are failing to recognise the difference between “profession” and “professional”. In journalism there are no gatekeepers, chartered institutes or state-sanctioned entrance criteria. If journalism were to become a regulated profession, journalists could never be trusted as independent information brokers. There is a fundamental difference between journalism and, say, medicine or law.

I agree with much of what Donnacha says in the video interview accompanying his Ceasefire article, but find it difficult to comprehend how, in supporting the NUJ submission to Leveson, an anarchist can call for the control of one class of rogue corporatists – the media barons – through the empowering of another – the state. Pragmatic libertarians do not choose between State and Capital. They deal with them as they are, and work creatively to overcome them both.

If Donnacha and his NEC colleagues are not calling for state regulation of the media, it is beholden on them to explain how a “statutory backstop” differs from “statutory regulation”. So far they have not done so, preferring instead to conduct the debate largely in the form of Twitter wordbites.