Cole defends press freedom

Peter ColeProfessor Peter Cole made a robust defence of a free press at a special guest lecture at the University of Sheffield.

The Emeritus Professor of Journalism, and former head of the Department of Journalism Studies, was asked to talk about the scandal of phone hacking and the setting up of the Leveson Inquiry to consider “the culture, practices and ethics of the press”.

Professor Cole, who through a distinguished career worked for many years at the Guardian and edited the Sunday Times News Review and the Sunday Correspondent, set the scene of the scandal outlining the terms of reference for the inquiry and the main players, ranging from Rupert Murdoch and Rebekah Brooks of News International, to Guardian journalist Nick Davies and victims of phone snooping including Milly Dowler and Madeleine McCann’s parents.

He said: “Hacking is the easy part. Everyone accepts it is wrong and no one tries to defend it. It is against the law and it should be investigated.

Three questions

“But the Inquiry’s terms of reference are so wide there is a worry about what Leveson might recommend and whether it might infringe press freedom.”

There are fears that the Inquiry may recommend the ending of self-regulation of the press as practiced by the Press Complains Commission in favour of some form of statutory regulation.

Professor Cole posed three questions to a packed audience:

  • Would the MPs’ expenses scandal have been uncovered if there was political control over press regulation?
  • Would the press have been allowed to intrude into Liam Fox’s privacy?
  • Do you trust the political leaders who go to such lengths to ingratiate themselves with Murdoch and party with his senior executives to legislate in the area of press control?

He added: “The danger I see is that if you give politicians the power to say what goes into the press they will abuse it.”

Professor Cole is the latest in a line up of industry professionals and leading journalists speaking in the guest lecture series organized by the Department of Journalism Studies.