Baroness Onora O’Neill has called for newspaper editors and proprietors to reveal their financial interests.
The baroness – a professor of philosophy at Cambridge University – told the Leveson Inquiry journalists should be open about owning property and political leanings and advocated “openness” across the industry. O’Neill was one of seven academics giving evidence on public interest to the inquiry today.
Dr Rowan Cruft – a senior lecturer at Stirling – also said senior media figures should declare political and business interests.
O’Neill recommended a future regulator have a statutory basis, independence from government and corporate interests, a duty to regulate in accordance with a code and have no power to censor content.
She added: “I think we have enormous experience in this country of the limitations of self-regulation for powerful professions and institutions, and in fact we’ve more or less eliminated self-regulation.”
O’Neill said she was concerned people were put off taking public positions because of fear of the press attacking their families or exposing private details.
She told the inquiry: “One way of thinking about it would be to suggest that part of the media express themselves in ways that might not be inappropriate if they were individuals and relatively powerless, but which, given that that is not their situation because they are quite powerful organisations, are not appropriate.”
“I think it’s a serious [problem] because when people who are not shrinking violets, like MPs, say that they have pulled their punches in a routine way because of this fear, I think that is quite damaging to democratic life.”
Dr Neil Manson from Lancaster University echoed this, telling the inquiry the press “doesn’t form relationships in the way that individuals do” and pointing out the importance of separating freedom of expression from freedom of the press.
Leed University’s Professor Chris Megone said the industry code should become “more lived in” and journalists should feel comfortable expressing concern about newsroom culture.
He added: “You need a code which expresses in a more positive way the positive contribution of the press to the common good.”
The inquiry also heard from Professor Jennifer Hornsby from Birkbeck, Professor Sue Mendus from York and Professor John Tasioulas from UCL on defining the public interest in journalism.
Tasiolas told Lord Justice Leveson: “The sort of culture which we’re talking about is one for which we’re all responsible. It’s not just legislators or people in the media. It’s also individuals as consumers of what’s in the media, it’s how people talk to their children, what they get them interested in, how they set certain ethical boundaries in their own lives and so forth. We’re talking about how you create a culture where people spontaneously act in accordance with certain standards.”