David Fleming, director, National Museums Liverpool

Ethics vox pops
What are your own professional ethical values?

My own professional ethical values derive from my background as a social historian.

They are concerned with the responsibility to address the traditional silences in British museums – the slave trade, the impacts of imperialism and colonialism, the massive inequalities in society, especially urban society.

Museums have frequently managed to obscure such massive issues by failing to grasp that controversy is not alien to the museum world: in fact, controversy and debate are central to our work.

What do the public need from the code of ethics?

From a code of ethics the public needs first and foremost a commitment to honesty.

Many museums have perpetrated a dishonest approach to historical issues by avoiding contentious subjects in a quest for a spurious "neutrality".

I have no idea what authority such museums have for claiming a neutral ground that does not exist in real life.

If you could change one thing about the code of ethics what would it be?

If I could change one thing in the code of ethics it would be the balance between the technicalities of collections care and the responsibility to be brave and truthful in our interpretation.

The current code does a great job up to a point, but it is time to move on the ethical debate in light of worries that museums have often failed to present a view of the world that is representative of social diversity.

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