The transcripts of the official inquiry into the culture, practices and ethics of the press. More…

It is clear that the PCC code, which is by and large a good one, one which puts, in fairly unambiguous terms the underpinning of a free -- the free media in a democratic society and spells out the duties and responsibility as well as the freedoms -- it is clear that that really had little effect in the day-to-day life of many newspapers, and perhaps of very little relevance to any newspapers, since many newspapers already had, either explicitly or implicitly, a code of behaviour in their reporting and in their editing, which, in a sense, didn't need to have the prick -- the spur given to them by the PCC code.

How to internalise a code of ethics seems to me to be a long-term thing. It depends very much on the way in which journalists, especially reporters -- all journalists see themselves, and what I have argued is that as long as they see themselves as, to a large extent, the servants of a news desk, an editor, a proprietor, at a distance at least, and that anything their boss or bosses tells them to do, any kind of story they tell them to get, any kind of methods they wink at for getting that, they should fulfil. The more that is the way in which journalists approach their work, the less ethics will matter and will be observed.

Other -- we always say -- partly a defence, as well as elf-deprecation, we say journalists say, "We are not a profession; we are a trade. We are not like you lawyers, doctors, accountants. We are a trade." It is partly self-defence, and its self-defence because we implicitly assume that we therefore don't have the inhibitions which are upon you. We don't have the professional codes. We don't have organisations which can strike us off from being a journalist in the way that, say, a doctor will have. Thus our ethical observance doesn't have to be anything like as near the front of our mind as the professions do.

Whether we are a profession or a trade, it seems to me, doesn't matter. What we do need, I think, is some sense that there are limits to what we will do for those who hire us, and that these limits depend upon doing journalism, writing stories which (a) are, as far as we can tell, observably true, and (b) do not, grievously, egregiously and for no real public interest purpose, impinge on people's privacy.

If we internalise and have that as part of our ethic, then we can at least refuse -- maybe at the cost of our job or promotion, but we can, with some dignity, refuse to do the bidding of people who wish us to do things which are and would be regarded as being unethical, but that is what was in my mind.

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