Beware of Hoaxsters and Jokesters: On First Looking Into “A Handook of Reuters Journalism”

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The Reuters-killing National Tribune: “Coming soon.”

Independence is the essence of our reputation as a “stateless” global news organisation and fundamental to the trust that allows us to report impartially from all sides of a conflict or dispute. It is crucial to our ability to report on companies, institutions and individuals in the financial markets, many of whom are also our customers, without regard for anything other than accuracy, balance and the truth. Our independence stems not only from the structure of Reuters but also from our duty as journalists to avoid conflicts of interest or situations that could give rise to a perception of a conflict. … –“A handbook of Reuters journalism”

The age of ethics is over. The era of humanism is definitively dead. We are entering the age of pragmatism, or worse, of casuistry, which is pragmatism’s degenerate form. In short: An age of off-the-rack morality, of ideological pickpockets. –Millôr Fernandes (Brazil), The Bible of Chaos

I have been having a thorough read of “A handbook or Reuters journalism.”

It is a well-written document, but has one really odd feature: Repeated cross-references to a section called ATTENTION EDITOR ITEMS, HOAXES AND LEGAL DANGERS.

There is no section in the document by that title.

If you run a search on that phrase in the PDF file of the manual, you are likely to conclude that this is a cross-reference to a section that does not exist.

There is, however, a section entitled “Legal dangers, attention editor items and hoaxes” on page 352. The manual, which addresses how to avoid failures of editorial quality controls, could itself apparently use a good copyedit.

The reform of the editorial guidelines was a project overseen by Paul Holmes. As I noted in Mao-Mobbing ‘The Mouth of the South’

Paul Holmes is Worldwide General Editor of Political and General News at Reuters, in charge of reforming its editorial standards and practices, and a former Jerusalem bureau chief.

That was true at the time, but no longer is. Holmes was replaced in the last year or so (actually, today is the one-year anniversary of my noticing the announcement, though I noticed it quite some time after the fact) by David Schlesinger. See

Even so, Holmes’ preface to Reuters’ handbook is still in circulation.

It is a curious statement which seems to imply that all of the principles developed in the 388 pages that follow are mere suggestions.


Paul Holmes in negotiations with China’s associate foreign minister on the terms of Reuters’ coverage of China business sector. Source: China Consulate San Francisco.

Beyond the obvious, such as the cardinal sin of plagiarism, the dishonesty of fabrication or the immorality of bribe-taking, journalism is a profession that has to be governed by ethical guiding principles rather than by rigid rules. The former liberate, and lead to better journalism. The latter constrain, and restrict our ability to operate. What follows is an attempt to map out those principles, as guidance to taking decisions and adopting behaviours that are in the best interests of Reuters, our shareholders, our customers, our contacts, our readers and our profession.

It is something of a trivial exercise to point to cases in which which Reuters journalism has departed from the letter of the procedures set forth in its manual, in the name of the spirit of the thing and “the best interests of Reuters, its shareholders, and its customers.”

And its business partners and “content allies.”

In its first year under its new global editor in chief, has Reuters changed its behavior to conform more closely to its stated principles, or is it still interpreting them in a loose, tortured and casuistic manner?

I tend to think that Schlesinger has just as weak a view of conflict of interest governance, both by his statements on this issue and by his own conduct, as his predecessor. See, for example,

After seeing Schlesinger providing a cheerful product endorsement of Facebook at the World Editors Forum last year, for example, I no longer believe that Reuters coverage of the technology business is not influenced by its own business relationships and investments.

See

If this is how the top editor behaves, what signal does that send to the troops?

This is the same sort of stealth conflict of interest for which the Budd Commission criticized the BBC last year — to which BBC management responded with a sleazy spin-control campaign on the classic “toxic sludge is good for you” model:

But really, the proof is in the journalism, though taking that approach to the question would means plowing through an awful lot of Reuters journalist, pre- and post-Schlesinger, and trying to see whether the manual is being applied in a more or less literal-minded manner nowadays.

I do not tend to read Reuters much these days. I tend to prefer some of its competitors.

And which would an awful lot of work. And this is just a blog. Unfortunately, with the price of cat food and beer being what they are, I find it necessary to get paid before I work that hard. If I ever win the lottery, I may be free of such economic constraints. But until then, welcome to the real world.

There is an interesting case in point to consider, however, just to start with, under the heading of how Reuters suggests handling [British-spelled] “rumours”:

In trying to check unofficial reports of the death or serious illness of major figures, we must not lay ourselves open to a charge of spreading rumours ourselves.

That paragraph apparently refers to a couple of incidents surrounding the Orange Revolution in the Ukraine: (1) the case of the poisoning of Ukrainian presidential candidate Yuschenko, and (2) the curious case of the dueling exit polls.

Reuters has run into trouble on publishing poll results before:

But it far from the only news agency to have done so:

The image “https://i2.wp.com/i113.photobucket.com/albums/n216/cbrayton/fsp03122007.jpg” cannot be displayed, because it contains errors.
“Exit polls give victory to Chávez in referendum”: The
Folha de S. Paulo front page on the day after, based on a reported from the EFE news agency. Also: “Corininthians [football club] banished to the second-division.” One of which is actually a reliable — and, we believe, regrettable — fact, to the great chagrin of the fiel (some of whom tried to lynch some of the players the other day. Yeesh.) The other of which is an alleged case of a world-class news agency perpetuating a hoax.

And there have seen some astonishing hoaxes perpetrated on reputable news organizations this year. Two really jaw-dropping examples:

In both cases, the credibility of Reuters reporting has been called into question by Stephen Bandera, in “The Role of the Internet and Ukraine’s 2004 Presidential Elections.” Which carries the following disclosure statement.

This publication was made possible through support provided by the Regional Mission for Ukraine, Belarus and Moldova, U.S. Agency for International Development, under the terms of Agreement No. 121-A-00-04-00701-00. The opinions expressed herein are those of the authors and do not necessarily reflect the views of the U.S. Agency for International Development.

But do not necessarily not reflect the views of USAID. Other sponsors of this celebration of the Internet’s victory over disinformation spread by the mainstream media, in the form of Reuters:

SEAUP is hosted on a Web site registered to Development Associates, according to a whois query:

Development Associates, Inc.
1730 North Lynn Street
Arlington, Virginia 22209
United States of America

The Four Freedoms site is registered to Mark Suprun, its president, who also googles up at some point as the executive director of the Ukrainian American Civil Liberties Union. He has led vocal protest of the Pulitzer Prize awarded to a New York Times reporter accused of “complicity in Ukrainian genocide.”

See, from the CJR, “Should this Pulitzer be pulled?

The outcome of the flap (Dean May):

So. The Pulitzer Committee will not revoke Walter Duranty’s prize. However, they note that his reporting was “seriously deficient by today’s standards.” His old employer, the New York Times, will now put an asterisk next to Duranty’s name in their annual listings of Pulitzer winners who’ve worked for them, to indicate that his work has been discredited.

What are today’s standards, according to the Pulitzer committee, anyway?

A visit to the principal URL of the site hosting SEAUP redirects you to the Web site of the (NASDAQ-listed) Golden Telecom LLC.

Golden Telecom LLC
8 Lebedeva-Kumacha str.
Kiev, 03058
UA

On Golden, from its investor relations Web site.

Golden Telecom LLC (Ukraine, hereinafter “Golden Telecom” or “The Company”) is a division of Golden Telecom Inc. (NASDAQ: GLDN) — a leading facilities-based provider of integrated telecommunications services for businesses and other high-usage customers and telecommunications operators. Golden Telecom started its operations in Ukraine in 1996. The Сompany provides complex telecommunication and Internet services in the biggest cities in Ukraine (Kyiv, Odesa, Lviv, Dnipropetrovs’k, Zaporizhzhya and Kharkiv). Golden Telecom (Ukraine) develops the following lines of business: local, intercity and international telephony, data services, Internet services – dedicated internet for corporate clients and dial-up access for wide consumer segment (Svit Online brand), GSM-1800 mobile services (in Kyiv and Odesa).

Golden was recently snapped up in an M&A deal (December 24, 2007):

OSCOW, Dec 21 (Reuters) – Vimpelcom (VIP.N), the number two cellphone operator in Russia and the Commonwealth of Independent States, is buying Golden Telecom (GLDN.O) for $4.3 billion to create the region’s first integrated fixed-to-mobile provider. In a joint statement on Friday, the companies said Vimpelcom will buy all outstanding common stock of Golden Telecom for $105 per share in cash. Golden Telecom provides voice, data and Internet services to retail and corporate clients in Russia and other CIS states.

Source: Reuters.

Bandera is the grandson of Stepan Bandera of the OUN — a martyr to political assassination by poisoning.

On October 15, 1959, at the entrance of a house in Kreittmayr street, 7 (Kreittmayrstraße), in Munich, Stepan Bandera was found at 13:05, bleeding and barely alive. A medical examination established that the cause of his death was poison (cyanide gas[2]). Two years later, on November 17, 1961, the German judicial bodies proclaimed that the murderer of Stepan Bandera was Bohdan Stashynsky who acted on the orders of Soviet KGB head Alexander Shelepin and Soviet premier Nikita Khrushchev.After a detailed investigation against Stashynskyi, a trial took place from October 8th to October 15, 1962. The sentence was handed down on October 19th, in which Stashynskyi was condemned to 8 years of imprisonment. The German Supreme Court confirmed at Karlsruhe that in the Bandera murder, the Soviet Government in Moscow was the main guilty party.

There seems to be a concerted effort to brand claims that the OUN collaborated with the Nazis is a product of disinformation. One such Web site argues:

Many lies have been published in the Ukrainiaphobe media about Stepan Bandera and the Organization of Ukrainian Nationalists (OUN). This organization has been portrayed as having perpetrated such heinous crimes as mass killing of many people including Jews. … A great fiasco was the CBS investigative journalism show 60 Minutes titled The Ugly Face of Freedom, produced by Jeffrey Fager and hosted by Morley Safer, portraying Ukrainians as Nazi collaborators. What the world doesn’t know is that these lies have been fabricated by the Soviet propaganda machine to cover up their own atrocities onto the Ukrainian people.

Further reading on the subject, from the Brooklyn Public Library:

Stepan Bandera: The resurrection of a Ukrainian national hero.
Author: Marples, David
Journal: Europe-Asia Studies
Pub.: 2006-06
Volume: 58
Issue: 4
Pages: 555(12)
ISSN: 09668136
Subject: HEROES; TRAITORS; TWENTIETH century; SOVIET Union; UKRAINE; BANDERA, Stepan
Description: Language : English AN : 21007425 DOI : 010.1080/09668130600652118 This article discusses the reinterpretations of the career of Ukrainian nationalist leader Stepan Bandera and his place in contemporary Ukraine by examining scholarly debates in academic books and articles, school textbooks and media sources from the late 1980s to the present. The article seeks to elucidate the place of Bandera in modern Ukrainian history and illustrates his metamorphosis from arch-villain and alleged traitor in Soviet works to a modern and mythical national hero with a firm place in the historical narrative of twentieth century Ukraine.

The grandson is also associated with the Four Freedoms NGO (he has an e-mail account with them), googles up as an editor for the Kyiv Post, and an online profile he has posted (ZoomInfo) lists himself as a “media coordinator” for the National Tribune, at the following address

136 Second Avenue
New York, NY 10003
USA

Also at that address:

Ukrainian American Youth Association (CYM)
New York Branch
136 Second Avenue
New York NY 10003
USA

Also

Ukrainian Free University Foundation Inc
136 Second Avenue
New York NY 10276

Go figure why it has a different ZIP code.

Also

Ukrainian Women’s Organization
136 Second Avenue
New York NY 10003
USA

Which is right down the block from a fine little eatery where I have lunched and munched many, many times myself:

Veselka Restaurant
144 Second Avenue
New York NY 10003
USA

It is famous for its wonderful murals, and for not sending the customer away hungry after sampling its stick-to-the-ribs Slavic soul food. I have seen the composer Phillip Glass lunching there a number of times.

Journalists with institutional ties to U.S. government-funded programs and “grassroots” politicial movements underwritten by private-sector telecom companies question the editorial integrity of Reuters, the New York Times, and CBS, among others, accusing them of being dupes of Communist propaganda.

Reuters stands accused of merely rewriting the press-release without fact-checking it first, and without considering the source, and the institutional ties of that source, with due diligence. The Bandera report:

“Reuters should now come clean and tell the world about the fake document and questionable sources,” shouted Williams in caps-lock-on mode. “Who paid the public relations firm to design and carry out this reported fraud?” he asked.

Those charges were made by E. Morgan Williams of The Action Ukraine Report. He is listed as the technical contact on the Web site hosting the AUR, ArtUkraine.com

Williams, E Morgan@ARTUKRAINE.COM
P.O. Box 2607
Washington, DC 20013
US

Reuters stood by its reporting.

The affair was a tangled one.

What I want to know is, did my taxpayer dollars finance some of the hysterical shrieking on the issue? And did a business dispute over control of the emerging telecom market wag the dog of electoral politics in the case — another case in point for the NMM “armed media monopoly” hypothesis?

There seem to be signficiant signs of “armed media monopoly” backing in this campaign to name and shame alleged “bribe-taking” Ukrainian journalists, for example. See

If so, how is the world safer for democracy if Atel rather than Btel ends up selling cell phones to digitally hip Ukrainians? What is my return on investment for tax dollars spent running Ukrainian astroturf campaigns? What is the blowback risk, and how might it affect me, as a taxpayer?

Those are the questions that tend to bug me.

I tend to suspect that what we are watching here is a manifestation of moral panic-driven gabbling ratfink information warfare.

Anyway, later, let’s do a separate case-study on each of the two counts on which Reuters accused to see how it got tripped up, and how it intends to avoid this in the future

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