What’s “in the public interest”?

August 2nd, 2011

Having listened to a couple of discussions on the radio, I was struck by that phrase “in the public interest”, so thought I’d pursue the theme a little.

According to the Press Complaints Commission’s Editors’ Code of Practice The public interest includes, but is not confined to:
i) Detecting or exposing crime or serious impropriety.
ii) Protecting public health and safety.
iii) Preventing the public from being misled by an action or statement of an individual or organisation.

There is a public interest in freedom of expression itself.

That is not the same as something being “of interest to the public” and that, to me, is where the dilemma has been of late, in our press. However, my thoughts turned from the press to the role of a public enquiry, whether looking into the press or other areas of life.

Who is a public enquiry for?

The discussion I heard, on the radio, was asking for nominations for suitable people to serve on a public enquiry and there were various suggestions including “up-standing members of society” as well as the downright atagonistic from both the far right and the far left of the political spectrum.

But what about “Joe Public”? I couldn’t get to the phone at the time – I was driving – and the programme was over by the time I’d stopped but I wanted to volunteer myself or nominate a couple of people I know. Two or three members of the public, doesn’t matter what trade or profession, but those with some interest in making the public enquiry accountable for its results. Whether or not the whole of the hearing was to be conducted in public or not, surely, if you want a public enquiry to be credible to the general public and really be in the public interest, then get us involved.

Let’s be honest, many of us don’t trust the politicans and, even the highly respected professional judges and others in society have political foes and allies with whom they seem to disagree or agree as a matter of principal. So, to those involved in The Levison Enquiry into the role of the press and the police, let’s have a few members of the public who really value an independent press and police force and whose politic views are tied to running their lives on a day-to-day basis, irrespective of a party.

Anyone else want to volunteer or nominate someone in their local or business community? Any other ideas how to make “public enquiries” serve the “public interest”?

If you’d like to contact me directly, please do so sue@suecohen.co.uk

Or send me an invite on LinkedIn and let me know how you found me –


As always, your comments are welcome

3 Responses to “What’s “in the public interest”?”

  1. This is really important, what those in power and influence are not the ones to define public interest.

  2. Peter Brown on August 2nd, 2011 at 9:13 am
  3. One person’s interests isn’t another’s. In reality ‘public interest’ is a smoking mirrors strategy. More often than not applying such a strategy pushes the issue into the distant future. Usually at some unspecified date no action is taken or the original intention is implemented and then those in authority are able to pat themselves on the back to say they did the right thing.

  4. cabirduk on August 4th, 2011 at 1:14 pm
  5. Thank you both for your comments – seems we are all a little cynical!

  6. suecohen on August 4th, 2011 at 4:27 pm

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