Nassif on Weak Governance in Journalistic Conflict-of-Interest Red Herrings

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Miriam Leitao of O Globo: “I talked just now with sources inside the judiciary on the case of the e-mails of the Supreme Court justices, published in O Globo today. What they told me is, first of all, that this was not invasion of privacy because the session is public and that the computers on which the messages were exchanged were exposed to view.” O Globo gabbles.

It is the reporter-source relationship that needs clearer rules. For example, “The newspaper and the journalist are not obliged to preserve the promise of anonymity to sources who provide it with false or incomplete information with an intention of influencing the market.” –Luis Nassif (Brazil)

Our policy on anonymous sources is a good one, and bears repeating. It begins: “We resist granting anonymity except as a last resort to obtain information that we believe to be newsworthy and reliable.” The information should be of compelling interest, and unobtainable by other means. We resist granting anonymity for opinion, speculation or personal attacks. –Bill Keller, New York Times, “Assuring Our Credibility” (June 23, 2005)

Anonymous sources: Use anonymous attribution only when essential and even then provide the most specific possible identification of the source. Simply quoting “a source,” unmodified, is almost always prohibited. –The Associated Press Stylebook (See also Style Points: AP on Saving Daylight and Citing Sources)

Brazilian business journalist Luis Nassif contributes an interesting — and succinct and to the point — note on managing conflicts of interest in business journalism.

See also

A alteração do Manual de Redação da “ Folha” , proibindo seus jornalistas de terem ações de empresas sobre as quais escrevam mira o alvo errado. Pouquíssimos jornalistas aplicam em ações.

The amendment of the Folha de S. Paulo editorial manual to prohibit journalists from owning shares in companies they cover misses the point.

Very few journalists own stock.

Disclosure: I own something like 5 shares of CME — I forget — but I bought it after I quit my last full-time job. I have made enough money on the investment so far to buy myself a nice cavaquinho or two.


O problema maior – detectado pela CVM (Comissão de Valores Mobiliários) – é o de jornalistas que divulgam notas de fontes anônimas, com o claro intuito (as notas) de manipular mercados. Quem tem o ganho é a fonte.

The bigger problem — as the [Brazilian SEC, the CVM] has detected — is journalists who publish articles based on anonymous sources, with the clear intention of manipulating markets. The one who gains from this is the source.

What were we just talking about?

Nos últimos doze meses saíram inúmeras matérias sobre compra e venda de empresas de telefonia que, para qualquer analista mais atento, eram balões de ensaio para chacoalhar o mercado. Quem ganhava era a fonte que passava a notícia falsa.

In the last twelve months we have seen countless articles on the buying and selling of telephone companies that, to an attentive analyst, were actually trial ballons designed to shake the market. The one who gained from this was the source that passed along the phony news item.

Provavelmente, na maioria absoluta dos casos, o jornalista ganhava, em troca, o reconhecimento dos leigos e a desconfiança dos especialistas pelo “furo” dado.

In the absolute majority of those cases, what the journalist probably got in return was applause from lay readers and the suspicion of specialists over the “scoop” they published.

É essa relação jornalista-fonte que deveria merecer regras mais claras. Por exemplo, “o jornal e o jornalista se desobrigam de manter o “off” das fontes que passaram informações falsas e/ou incompletas com a intenção de influir no mercado”.

It is the reporter-source relationship that needs clearer rules. For example, “The newspaper and the journalist are not obliged to preserve the promise of anonymity to sources who provide it with false or incomplete information with an intention of influencing the market.”

How about just simply

“Journalists should no longer waste the time of their readers with what people who have provided them with false or misleading information, for whatever reason, have to say.”

The Folha must have cribbed this approach from Reuters, which also requires a very weak and mostly irrelevant governance standard of its reporters, I think.

As I noted a while back:

Reuters global editor in chief David Schlesinger, for example, blogged recently (“When the reporter becomes the reported”) on the quandaries of reporting a business deal involving your own company.

Schlesinger defended the journalistic “necessity” of doing so, very properly outlined the (rather complex) rules governing such coverage, and reported that he had worked up a boilerplate “red herring” for Reuters stories covering Reuters selling itself to Thomson:

(Reporters and editors involved in the writing and editing of this report may own Reuters securities and are bound by the Reuters Code of Conduct, which restricts dealing in securities in companies a journalist is reporting on.)

“Restricts,” not “forbids”? But okay, so now, at least, we have some way of holding Reuters to its own standards — on investing.

As to its journalistic standards and practices, the red herring is absolutely silent, it seems to me.

Which is why those standards still seem like an extremely low bar, I have to say.

I can think of a number of cases of what amounts to Reuters “house advertorial” that has gone out on the newswire without a disclaimer to that effect.

Compare the very simple and straightforward decision by Bloomberg editors to simply avoid covering their big boss’s run for New York City mayor –except to report on the latest poll numbers compiled by an independent source.

Those Bloomberg people are not evil to a surprising degree, I tend to find, considering the running-dog capitalist lackeys that they obviously are.


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