Financial Times editor Lionel Barber on media ethics

About time too. Finally another senior figure in the media has spoken out about media ethics – and the lack of coverage given to it by the UK press.

Lionel Barber’s full speech from yesterday is here in PDF format. If you work in UK public affairs, corporate comms or CR, it’s probably well worth a good read.

It’s not before time. I have argued for years (and was not the first by any means) that there has long been a conspiracy of silence in the UK media on ethics.

Now the New of the World phone hacking story cover-up is unravelling at great speed (see non-mainstream media and the Guardian for details), at last another editor has pointed out what we all knew but few said: That much of the UK media, particularly our rabid tabloid newspapers, have been up to their necks in the ‘dark arts’ for many years.

I’ve been to enough journalism master-classes and meetings, and had a beer with enough journalists, to have heard this for a long time. It’s good to see a bit of sunlight finally making dodgy journalists, private detectives and editors squirm in their chairs.

As Barber says:

“Most important of all, the newspaper industry itself did not take the issue seriously or seek to establish the truth. Indeed, aside from the lead taken by the Guardian, which was followed by the FT, BBC and Independent, the rest of the newspaper industry took a pass on the News of the World phone-hacking story – almost certainly because they too were involved in “dark arts””

On Friday last week I asked the Executive Editor of the Economist, Daniel Franklin, for his views on it all. The podcast is here. (It’s towards the end of the recording)

Scotland Yard has now finally re-opened the case against the News of the World. Watch this space for more revelations.

News International will not be able to pay everyone off, forever, would be my bet.


  1. Thanks for pointing this out Toby. There are few industries where the social and ethical challenges are more significant, or more dynamic, than in the media. We've recently blogged about some of the big social responsibility issues facing the industry: http://craneandmatten.blogspot.com/2011/01/five-things-weve-learned-about-social.html. Ethics in journalism is certainly one of them, but its important to put this in the broader context of the industry's social role and purpose. Even if that role seems to be a matter of some debate these days.

  2. “It’s a sign of troubled times when the concept of “pressure” becomes an acceptable excuse for ethical shortcuts and moral shortcomings. Pressures are just temptations in disguise and it’s never been acceptable to give in to temptation. Ethics is about the way things ought to be, not about the way things are. When it comes to ethics, motive is very important. A person of character does the right thing for the right reason. Compliance is about what we must do; ethics is about what we should do. Ethical people often do more than the law requires and less than it allows. The area of discretion between the legal “must” and the moral “should” tests our character. Noble talk and framed ethics statements are no substitute for principled conduct. The test is doing the right thing.” – Michael Josephson

    Business Ethics Trainingva

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