In this column for the Guardian, George Monbiot suggests a mandatory register of journalists' financial interests as a way of cleaning up the profession. He argues that such a register should be part of any future replacement for the PCC and that it would give our readers 'some idea of whether it's the organ-grinder talking or his monkey.' His proposal is prompted not by hacking, but by recent payola scandals in America. Monbiot has started the process by revealing all of his own interests - pay, gifts, hospitality and investments on his website Hero or pious fool? You decide.    


I'm not really that curious as to Monbiot's 'interests', I won't be checking up on him. But when it would make a difference to your perception of a journo's work because of conflicts of interest, what's to stop j'ists keeping such information off such a register?

Print regulation more broadly, of course, needs to be discussed (as at the forthcoming Magna Carter II conference -, and Monbiot's gesture is admirable, but still just that - a gesture. I can't see it making waves any time soon.

Even a new body/PCC charter will inevitably achieve little (unless, which seems unlikely, statutory powers of punishment are created). Because it's not the law around print media that needs to change - it's the vile culture and norms that currently prevail (since, as Carne Ross writes in The Leaderless Revolution, it's norms that drive behaviour, not law).

Two reasons why journalists can abdicate responsibility for our media culture:

- Hacks might contend that they're giving the public what they want - but surely they're stoking the flames of a voracious appetite for tittle tattle, too?

- If newspapers' budgets weren't so squeezed, perhaps boundaries wouldn't be pushed so far.

So change the public's desire for gossip, or solve the perennial profit problem of print? Seems unlikely - the only way things will get better is through individuals taking responsibility for the work they do (which may involve subscribing to PCC-style codes, or may not), and holding themselves to a moral standard.

One way to drive such a change is to make clear that you feel that methods such as hacking are reprehensible. If journalism is to be an honourable profession, it must be clear to journalists that immoral behaviour disgusts the public, and readers (and thus has commercial consequences). Shame, too, has a role to play.

A modest proposal