A few very quick thoughts on self-regulation of the press

I’ve been trying to put this idea about for a while, but thought it might be worth setting it down in more than the 140 characters that Twitter allows.

One of the main themes that has emerged during the Leveson Inquiry, as well as in the years and months preceding it while the phone hacking scandal and other press misdemeanours came to light, is how ineffective the Press Complaints Commission is in its role as a self-regulatory body for the UK press.  It would appear to an outside and casual observer like me that large sections of the press such as the News of the World and Daily Mail have been allowed to write pretty much whatever they want, whether or not it is true, and that they would suffer no consequences other than a sternly worded letter and a two-line correction in the offending publication, somewhere between the adverts for impractically-expensive cruise holidays and that Bose clock radio that seems to have been on sale since I was nought but a sprog.

There have been many calls for the PCC to be abolished, and for a more draconian government body to be set up to prevent unscrupulous members of the press from misbehaving, but these have been rightly criticised for restricting the ability of responsible journalists and columnists to do their job effectively.  So, in a moment of inspiration, I wondered: what about a chartered institute of journalists.

A bit of background.  I am a civil engineer.  There are several bodies that oversee the activities of civil engineers in the UK, depending on the discipline of the engineer, such as the Institution of Structural Engineers, Chartered Institute of Highways and Transportation, but the oldest and most venerable of these is the Institution of Civil Engineers (ICE).  These institutions and others have a Royal Charter, which gives them sufficient clout to administer themselves to ensure that their membership act in a professional way, and also are competent to practice. 

In addition, a body known as the Engineering Council sits above all of these institutions, and is a register of chartered and incorporated engineers who have demonstrated that they have attained the experience and shown the professionalism appropriate to their grade of registration.  The overall effect of this is that being a member of such institutions indicates to fellow members, and to external parties such as non-technical clients, that one is competent to do the job of which one is asked.

So, my thought: why can’t there be a chartered institute to self-regulate the practices of journalists, columnists, etc; in effect, creating professional journalists.  That way journalists who were members of such an institute could demonstrate to other journalists, and to those they interview and discuss, that they are committed to a particular code of ethics and professionalism.  Acting in a manner other than this would result in suspension of the membership, disciplinary action, etc.  Such an institute would have to administer itself in a robust and effective manner in order to maintain its charter. 

These are just initial thoughts, feel free to point out any flaws.  *braces for impact*