The leading political philosopher and crossbench peer Baroness O'Neill has called on the press to practise the same level of transparency as the political and business classes they report on, in a policy brief published by the Foundation for Law, Justice and Society today.
Baroness O'Neill, who has been writing and lecturing on press freedom for several years, and in 2002 delivered the BBC Reith lectures on trust and transparency in public life, addresses the central contradiction that, "While the media demand transparency about the interests of those working for or controlling other powerful organizations, transparency within the media is often avoided".
The policy brief, entitled Regulating for Communication, expands upon the comments Baroness O'Neill made to the Leveson Inquiry earlier this month, when she outlined proposals to address the lack of transparency over payments made and received by journalists in the reporting of certain stories.
In the policy brief, Baroness O'Neill asks, "What benefits in kind were provided to the media, and by whom? Who paid whom to cover certain stories, or not to cover them?" She goes on to confront the issue of media infringements on the private lives of public figures: "Did the media pay for private information about others, including about supposedly public figures? Were payments made for confidential commercial or political material?"
The policy brief makes recommendations for the introduction of five regulatory standards, backed by statute, including measures to encourage journalists to reveal sources, except where public interest exemptions apply, and to ensure that journalistic errors are corrected visibly and promptly.
Her argument critiques widely held views about the nature of a free press based on inexact interpretations of the Human Rights Declarations, to show that regulatory standards can improve the process of media reporting, whilst avoiding censorship of content.
The policy brief is the third to emerge from a panel discussion held at Wolfson College in May entitled Regulating Fleet Street: Media Regulation and the Role of Law, podcasts of which are available on the right-hand links.
It follows earlier policy briefs from the former Managing Editor of The Times Professor George Brock, who advocated a balance between strengthened legal defences for public interest journalism and non-statutory regulation, and Lara Fielden, a visiting fellow at the Reuters Institute for the Study of Journalism and formerly of Ofcom and the BBC, who made proposals for a new framework for media regulation to encompass online media.