I Was Sortof Right

A couple of years ago I made this prediction:

We will soon see calls to bring a tighter licensing or
credentialing system for journalists, similar to what we see for
lawyers, doctors, teachers, and, god help us, for beauticians
.  The
proposals will be nominally justified by improving ethics or similar
laudable things, but, like most credentialing systems, will be aimed
not at those on the inside but those on the outside.  At one time or
another, teachers, massage therapists, and hairdressers have all used
licensing or credentialing as a way to fight competition from upstart
competitors, often ones with new business models who don't have the
same trade-specific educational degrees the insiders have....

Such credentialing can provide a powerful comeback for industry insiders under attack.  Teachers, for example, use it every chance they get to attack home schooling and private schools,
despite the fact that uncertified teachers in both these latter
environments do better than the average certified teacher (for example,
kids home schooled by moms who dropped out of high school performed at
the 83rd percentile).  So, next time the MSM is under attack from the blogosphere, rather than address the issues, they can say that that guy in Tennessee is just a college professor and isn't even a licensed journalist.

Well, despite all efforts by John McCain, we still have free speech on the blogosphere.  But I was almost right, because another country is considering such a proposal -- In France:

The government has also proposed a certification system for Web sites,
blog hosters, mobile-phone operators and Internet service providers,
identifying them as government-approved sources of information if they
adhere to certain rules. The journalists' organization Reporters
Without Borders, which campaigns for a free press, has warned that such
a system could lead to excessive self censorship as organizations
worried about losing their certification suppress certain stories.


  1. Mesa EconoGuy:

    Journalists need to be licensed, especially in this country. Sorry.

    Name another profession that carries constitutional protection that requires no professional licensing or standard of conduct/behavior. And one with mass audience and suasion capability.

    As we just saw in this absurd Libby case, it was exceedingly easy for journalists to literally manipulate the system. Tim Russert, was effectively allowed to lie –

    “The court prevented the defense from impeaching Tim Russert: The NBC anchorman, who has a law degree, testified he did not know a lawyer could not accompany a witness before the grand jury. The defense then exhumed three clips where Russert had said on the air that a lawyer cannot go into the grand jury with his client. The judge would not allow the jury to hear that other honorable people sometimes forget or misspeak when being grilled on the witness stand.”

    [Victoria Toensing on the Libby Case: http://article.nationalreview.com/?q=ODM4MDMxMTgzNzU1YTVkZTliZDUyZmVjN2JmMWI4ODM= ]

    While McCain-Feingold represents a violent trampling of free speech, the flipside is unaccountable journalists running rampant.

    In all other professions, even those with minimal protections, the standards of conduct, written and unwritten, are far higher than journalism. I argue that since journalists are given absolute constitutional protection, their standards should be highest of all professions. This is obviously clearly not the case currently.

    The blogosphere should be different, as the majority of us aren’t “trained” journalists (oxymoron), and consequently we know more and write better than most journalists, who have little real-world (business) experience. But we, as non-licensed journalists, wouldn’t be subject to the standards of the journalism trade, and readers would be able to decide for themselves. Again, it is far more deceptive under our current arrangement to have people passing themselves off as journalists who obviously have no clue about what they’re writing about or doing, giving them undeserved credibility, cloaked in the mystique of journalism and fully shielded by the First Amendment.

    Imagine how easy it would be (is) for journalists to collude to take down politicians (or anyone else) they don’t like, and hide behind the First Amendment. Actually, just ask Dan Rather…..

  2. Highway:

    Sorry, Mesa guy, I can't buy that 'unaccountable' journalists idea. Of course they're accountable - to their audience. I'd rather everyone have the 'constitutional protections' that you ascribe to journalists, rather than making them a protected credentialed class.

    Sure, standards of practice are higher in other professions. As an engineer, I realize what implications there could be if I don't follow proper design standards.

    How are journalists given 'absolute constitutional protection'? And what about it is different from what the rest of the citizenry has? Is it plainly unconstitutional laws like BCFRA? That's a problem with the law, not with journalists.

    The only people giving 'journalists' undeserved credibility is people who think 'journalism' is something special. It's not, just the ability to tell people what happened.

  3. Highway:

    Sorry, didn't finish my thought.

    Regarding the power that journalists have and the reasons for then regulating and limiting them: Who gets hurt if someone continually makes up stuff and reports it as the truth? You mention Dan Rather: Seems to me that GWB still has his job, and Dan Rather doesn't.

  4. Mesa EconoGuy:

    No. Journalists are very nearly unaccountable. To whom was Dan Rather accountable? The “internal investigation” that absolved him?

    Rather was supposedly forced out because of ratings, which is a form of accountability. The problem there is, what if some “journalist” comes along, who gets fantastic ratings by repeatedly lying and smearing (yes, I know there are laws against that), and effectively brings down a government because of what he says and does, even though everything he says is false?

    Licensing has 2 advantageous features:

    1) With licensing, you would (hopefully) have a clear set of standards and ethics, though it is questionable whether journalists could construct such a set of criteria themselves
    2) This would not only encourage adherence to these standards, it would give the public the ability to evaluate, and in certain circumstances, take legal action against violators

    The financial services industry is a perfect example. Licensing serves as a “bottom rung” hurdle, and weeds out some of the riff-raff. Those who do get thru have the additional incentive to behave because of SRO enforcement, as well as exposure to liability for customer harm.

    Licensing of financial professionals has not resulted in outrageously higher wages – in fact, competition has all but eliminated 20% commissions (commissions are dwindling to zero), and services have multiplied manifold over the past quarter century. The menu of services, and suite of financial offerings to all wealth levels of clients, has never been larger for consumers.

    So the “licensing creates exclusionary oligopoly (or, more accurately, monopsony) to the advantage of members and detriment of end consumers” isn’t always the case.

    Any journalist can write anything they wish, and claim it is their First Amendment right (and it is, as currently constructed) not to cooperate with prosecutions, and effectively insulate themselves from prosecution. That is absolute constitutional protection. No other profession contains that protection.