Press must sharpen up on ethics training to avoid collapse of self regulation

The telling thing for me about Glenn Mulcaire’s statement yesterday, made in the wake of reports that he had hacked the mobile phone messages of a murdered schoolgirl, is that he said he didn’t know what he was doing was wrong.

He was doing journalistic work for the UK’s top-selling Sunday newspaper and evidently had been given no professional training whatsoever.

In the wake of the death of David Kelly and the Hutton Report the BBC embarked on a huge training programme for all its journalists. A similar response now needs to be taken by the UK’s press.

It will be no use stating that this is all in the past and has now been dealt with. That wouldn’t have washed for MPs and expenses and it won’t wash with the public now.

Journalism is too important a job to be carried out by people who haven’t had the necessary training. You wouldn’t expect a doctor, lawyer or surveyor to be able to work in the UK without the right professional qualifications and shouldn’t the same be true about journalists?

The work we do has the potential to wreck lives – and also to do enormous good. Let’s not forget that Milly Dowler’s killer was brought to justice largely thanks to the dogged efforts of Daily Mirror reporter David Collins.

The vast majority of journalists in the UK do an incredibly demanding and important job for not much money because they believe passionately in what they are doing. Most have also undergone years of training and behave with the utmost professionalism.

If the industry is to avoid the collapse of self-regulation under the Press Complaints Commission I believe it needs to take urgent action to ensure that all journalists adhere to high professional standards and to ensure that these rules are also applied to any third party agencies or lone operators that news organisations may use.

I’d even go as far as to suggest that we need a system where – on national newspapers and the big regionals at least – membership of the profession should be regulated in the way that lawyers, surveyors and even, say, gas-fitters are. This could be administered by the industry itself through bodies like the PCC, the Society of Editors and the National Union of Journalists.

That way serious wrong-doers could face the ultimate sanction of being struck-off the register – losing the ability to practice their trade.

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