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2020: A Press Odyssey – reporter licensing explained

Daddy, who's Hugh Grant? Oh, you mean Lord Grant

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Sketch It's 2020, and a schoolgirl is doing her homework.

"Daddy, what's a press licence?"

"Oh, that. Well a press licence allows you to call yourself a journalist and get into official events, for official journalists."

"What for?"

"Well you get into events held by the government or a company, or for example a football club, and can then write about them."

"So it's like a parking permit. But I don't understand. Everybody is writing about everything anyway. On the internet. Why would I need a press licence?"

"Well, sometimes you need to ask somebody a question in person."

"What for? Will they tell you the truth, then?"

"Probably not."

"So why would you need a press permit?"

"So they can give you official version of something."

"Can't they use the internet to do give out that official version of something?"

"Er, yes. And they do."

"Hmm. So what if you have a question they don't want to answer?"

"Well... I suppose you can hear the answer they don't give you in person. Although usually that is never reported, except when it's a really silly question and everyone has a big laugh together. That's how we hold people to account – it's a very important job."

"So can people who ask awkward questions not attend?"

"Not anymore, I'm afraid."

"I don't understand why you need a permit? How did it happen?"

"Er. Well you see, once upon a time, people used to buy newspapers and watch TV news, and these outfits could afford to pay people to do journalism full-time. It wasn't all blogs. Why are you laughing?"

"That's a funny idea."

"And some of it was good and some was, well... Do you know who Hugh Grant is?"

"Hugh who?"

"Well Hugh Grant was a famous actor. Actually, not that famous, but never mind. And he couldn't keep his trousers on."

"I've never heard of him."

"And there was another actor called Steve Coogan who couldn't keep his trousers on either."

"Ah. Lord Grant and Coogan, yes Dad – yes, it's all here in the National Wikicurriculum. But so what?"

"Well they didn't like getting in the papers when they were caught with their trousers down. So they kicked up a fuss and demanded that you needed a sort of parking permit to write stories about them.

"Why couldn't they just keep their trousers on?"

"I er, well. Actually politicians were caught with their trousers down sometimes, too, or cheating their expenses, so they were very keen on permits too."

"Hmmm. You can read anything you want on the blogs now. Especially that Lord Grant – have you seen what he did last week, he..."

"Stop right there, I can guess. Now there was something else behind it, let me try and remember. One of the more rubbishy Sunday blogs, er, newspapers did something quite dreadful. It deleted voicemails on a missing girl's phone."

"That's horrible"

"Yes. But it turned out it wasn't true, they hadn't. Except nobody remembers that now. Yes, looking back, I think that's how it all started."

"So was the rubbishy newspaper that printed the untrue story about the other rubbishy newspaper the first to need a permit?"

"I think so. Actually, they thought it was all a really good idea."

"I still don't see why anyone should need a permit, no blogs have one."

"Well, all the journalists go to school with the politicians they write about, and sometimes the actors they write about too. The permit stops other people, who didn't go to school with them, from writing something they don't want to read."

"And they can ignore the internet and all pretend everything's all right? That's really stupid."

"Anyway. What's your next assignment?"

"Oh it's great. It's about these City of London guilds. But I don't know what most of them are. What's a Mason? What's a Haberdasher?" ®

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