November 25, 2010 at 11:34
The Society of Editors Lecture 2010
Alexander Lebedev praised the media in Britain compared to Russia for its freedom and independence.
He said: “I want facts and arguments to be freed from control.”
The owner of The Independent highlighted the role of the press in exposing the MPs' expenses scandal in stories which he said attracted astonishment and admiration from across the globe.
“They sought basic facts under the Freedom of Information act, and then used them to deadly effect to expose the bloated corruption and lack of moral bearings that politicians had when they spent tax-payers' money on themselves,” he said.
“In Russia, I would welcome such openness and access to information. It is what journalists do best: seeking to expose things that are wrong.”
Mr Lebedev spoke of the extreme danger surrounding the profession in Russia. On the day that he bought The Evening Standard Mr Lebedev attended the funerals of two journalists on his Russian newspaper Novaya Gazetta who were murdered “simply for doing their job”.
He added: “We have lost six lives in recent years from journalists on Novaya Gazetta.”
Mr Lebedev trebled the circulation of The Evening Standard when he made the decision to distribute it free of charge.
His lecture set high moral standards for the industry, stressing the importance of transparency and independence within the media.
Mr Lebedev said journalists needed to be agents against corruption, and promised to invest further in investigative reporting.
He said: “We need to guard our right to express views, expose facts and to keep journalists able to do what they do best: shining lights in unwelcome places, and making the most powerful accountable to the public.”
Mr Lebedev's media portfolio includes The Independent, The Independent on Sunday, the London Evening Standard, and, as of last month, 'i', the Independent's “baby sister”.
His speech outlined what he considered to be the essential role of a newspaper owner, saying: “I have always pledged to keep at arm's length from my editors in their decisions about what goes on in the papers.”
Mr Lebedev said that this is what makes his papers different from any others - but that distance did not preclude him from occasionally taking the blame for his journalists' words.
He co-owns Novaya Gazetta with Mikhail Gorbachev, who he praised for opening the way to greater freedoms in Russia. He said the paper employs journalists who every day try to push back boundaries of what is allowed to be told.
He added: “If I have one particular message to move us forward from Mikhail Gorbachev's glasnost and perestroika, it is Transparency – to act as an agent against corruption.”
He said that Russian corruption could not be discussed in isolation, but only within an international framework. Comparing the global phenomenon to apartheid.
Mr Lebedev estimated that trillions of dollars had disappeared globally, as a result of international corruption, acting as a major contributor to the recent financial crisis; uncovering the full extent of this problem was a job that only journalists could do.