Baroness O’Neill calls for external press regulation

Baroness O’Neill. Pic: Goldsmiths, University of London

Baroness Onora O’Neill called for greater transparency and regulation of the press in a lecture at Goldsmiths University on Tuesday evening.

The lecture titled ‘Regulating for Communication’ was the Baroness’ latest contribution to the debate around the Leveson Inquiry, and comes just weeks before Lord Justice Leveson issues his verdicts on the state of UK’s press.

Presenting a sceptical view of a media without external regulation , O’Neill said: “Self-regulation always boils down to self-interested regulation.”

Journalists and other members of the press have argued that such regulation would interfere with their freedom to operate and have opposed a call for statutory regulation.

O’Neill argued however that the media misuses rights such as freedom of expression to protect perceived unethical practises and said: “Free speech is not about slandering”

O’Neill clarified that she does not call for a regulation of content, but of the process by which it is obtained, she said: “Regulation of content is always risky, and often ineffective.”

The Baroness believes that through tight regulation of media processes, we will get an appropriate and genuine investigative journalism that seeks the truth and contribute to the collective human good.

Speaking at the event, Angela Phillips, chair of the Ethics Committee of the Coordinating Committee for Media Reform and Senior Lecturer at Goldsmiths, supported O’Neill in her call to examine the concepts of press freedom. She said: “What I want is a new way of thinking about the freedom of the press.”

However, on the topic of complete transparency, they disagreed.

O’Neill, compared the press to other truth-seeking institutions, such as universities, and said she would like full transparency and a disclosure of sources: “I have some claim as a reader to know the source of what I am reading.”

Challenging this, Phillips stressed the fact that “journalists work in a feverishly competitive environment” in which the “sources are the currency.”

O’Neill is a Cambridge Professor of Philosophy and Chair of the Equality and Human Rights Commission and has been engaged in the media ethics debate for more than a decade.

She gave evidence to the Leveson Inquiry last July, raising questions regarding trust and reliability in the media and widely debating whether the freedom of the press is a coherent concept.

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