When the Cambridge Philosopher Onora O’Neill gave the BBC Reith Lectures in 2002 she set out a definitive view of how trust works in public life – a subject in which we at Edelman take a close interest.
Last night she gave a lecture at Oxford University looking at trust and the media – specifically after this year’s phone hacking scandals. It was an uncompromising look at the arguments in favour of press freedom, and the rights and responsibilities of institutions and individuals with regard to free expression and privacy. She concluded with a call for greater transparency – and regulation of – media process, but not of content. An elegant way around one of the core dilemmas in the current debate about the role of the media and specifically the tabloid press.
“Journalists, editors and proprietors could be required to declare their interests (like others in positions of influence). They could be required to list payments made to informants and payments and favours received in relation to specific stories (where relevant without naming recipients or sources). They could be required to make such transactions explicit in company accounts. The media have often been keen on transparency for others with power or influence, and what is sauce for political geese is surely also sauce for media ganders.”
It’s hard to argue against the view that the media should live by the standards to which they hold others to account. Her full remarks are worth reading. Just as she did 9 years ago – there’s a sense Onora O’Neill may have once again set the terms of the debate.
(Disclosure, News International is an Edelman client. I am a visiting fellow at the Reuters Institute for the Study of Journalism which hosted the debate.)