Friday, 19 June 2009

Why are some peers cynical, ET?

A senior journalist friend mailed me this morning to point out the following story about The Economic Times and its channel ET NOW’s code of conduct. His tone was the usual, cynical. If the editors, and more important, the management are really serious about implementation of the code, we should expect exodus from ET, this friend insisted.
I am not that cynic. I think we should wait and watch until you come across serious breach of the code.
The code is reproduced here for reference:

The Economic Times and ET NOW Code of Conduct

Introduction: What We Stand For

As a brand, The Economic Times / ET Now (hereinafter referred to as ET) draws its power and influence from two things:
1. Our ability to deliver the complete story: making sure our facts are correct, citing our sources, and providing analysis and context
2. The confidence of our readers that we are unbiased in our reporting and have no agenda to further save that of accurate reporting.

This Code of Conduct must be observed in spirit, not just to the letter. The purpose is to avoid any conflict of interests, any compromise of the Company's reputation and any bias, whether real or perceived, on the part of the Company staff, be it journalists, sub-editors, editors, cameramen, photographers or senior managers etc. Adherence to these principles is an essential part of their responsibilities in ET and shall form part of their contractual obligations with the Company and hence they should at all times conduct themselves as per this code.
This code is necessarily not comprehensive - it may not cover each and every ethical dilemma that an ET colleague might face. But we hope that it will indicate the spirit in which you should react to such dilemmas - and as always, when in doubt, please consult with your supervisor or a senior ET editor.

All ET staffers must conduct themselves by the following rules:
1. Confidentiality: The Company will regularly receive confidential information as part of normal news gathering. All information which is not in the public domain is confidential. This includes information relating to the Company, its shareholders and to any company, for example information about advertisers' credit and financial position. We will abide by the terms of Confidentiality and shall not breach a confidence or use confidential information improperly or carelessly.
2. "Church and State." Our reporting and analysis is entirely independent of our advertising and investment departments (Response / Sales and Private Treaties). We do not give preferential treatment to advertisers / treaty partners nor do we entertain requests from the business departments of BCCL to do so. We observe the "Chinese wall" between editorial and business.
Quality journalism
a) To provide the best reportage and analysis to our readers and viewers, we must ensure we are:
• "Accurate: We must present information that is true, and we must verify every fact and quote that we print. Your editors have the mandate to demand to see proof of any information that you base a story on, and to know the source of information that is potentially sensitive.
• "Unbiased: We must carry both sides of the story. If we are doing a negative story, we HAVE to give the subject time to respond - and carry their official denial or statement that they declined to comment, if that is what they choose to do. We should always talk to an unbiased third party, which may or may not feature prominently in the story before printing it.
• "Attributed: While we must sometimes use anonymous sources, we should restrict them to the absolutely essential cases. In all cases we should explain why the source is anonymous, and we should attempt to describe the source's relation to the story - for example "a banker involved with the negotiations" rather than "sources close to the development"
• Verified: We have missed stories because of our conservative approach. We have often had stories and not run them because of that elusive last bit of confirmation; we have woken up the next morning or several mornings later to find the same news with far fewer details in some other paper. In the long run, missing a story here or there is better for the brand and its credibility than running with a story prematurely and being forced to retract it.
• Honest: We do not make up quotes or information to support our story, nor do we appropriate the work of others - whether it's other media or any other written / audio-visual work - and pass it off as our own. Plagiarism is a firing offence at ET.
b) We must also be seen to be honest, which has implications on our interactions with sources, officials of the companies we cover, and communications professionals or mediators in these interactions.
c) We are also honest about our mistakes: if we get something wrong, we will carry a correction, and we must do so at the earliest available opportunity. If we make corrections to our online copy, we will include an update/ editor's note that states that a correction has been made.
d) We will not use offensive language, obscenities and racist / sexist / religious terms in any copy or script, unless they are part of a direct quote and their usage is critical to the story being reported.
e) We do not pay for information, nor do we promise financial gain to our sources in exchange for information.
f) We do not accept gifts or money from sources, PR agencies or companies that we cover. A box of chocolates / sweets or a calendar or diary is acceptable - anything else should be returned with a note explaining that it is our company policy, and reported to the Managing Editor.
g) An exception is sample products for review purposes: You may use / retain the product for only as long as it reasonably takes to review - a few days should be the outer limit. You should restrict the usage to what is required to write a well-researched review, and not for personal use that does not contribute to the review.
h) No ET staffer should solicit a junket. Plant / corporate visits or trips abroad, if they genuinely broaden horizons and add value to a person's knowledge base, can be considered. But there should not be the slightest hint that they were solicited
i) At times, your sources might want to take you out to lunch, dinner, drinks. Since these are times when the source tends to relax and lower his guard, use your judgement on when to accept. But at all times make it clear that these are professional interactions, not social ones.
• The same applies to PRs -- we've made it a rule for trainees that they do not have a drink/meal/coffee with any PR for the first two years that they are with ET. Apply the spirit of that rule to your interactions with all PRs - you should never give them the chance to act like you owe them something.
• If you feel you need to return a lunch or dinner someplace a little more expensive than the Press Club, please inform your editor, and we will see if some reimbursement can be organized.
j) We do not do previews of stories or package or shows - no source or company / person being featured can see the story or the package before it goes to print / air. We can, and should, however, email quotes that will be used in stories to sources for confirmation.
k) In addition, no staffer will reveal the contents of the paper / channel to any outsider in advance of their appearance in print/ on air. This includes the distribution / dissemination of advance copies / CDs or digital files of any ET content.

ET reserves the right to modify and expand the code of conduct from time to time, as appropriate.

ET Code of Financial Conduct
ET is India's most respected financial-news brand because it stands squarely for certain values: accuracy, reliability, fairness and integrity.

Our journalism, across media platforms, is committed to these values.

The changing industry and regulatory environments require us to uphold even higher standards to protect, defend and enhance the Company's reputation for accurate, unbiased journalism. Whatever it is you report on, you should ensure that there is never a situation which could lead to a suspicion that the Company, its publications and television channels, or its editors and journalists are biased. Hence you, whether in a managerial or an editorial capacity, must conduct yourself in a manner that reinforces the integrity of the company's operations as well as perceptions of such integrity.

No employee will take advantage of information that is not in public domain but to which he / she has gained access by virtue of his / her association with ET or its affiliates.

No employee will communicate such privileged information to another person, either within or outside the organization, who may be in a position to take advantage of it.
To ensure that our integrity is not compromised, especially in our coverage of markets, companies and policy, all employees are required to adhere to certain rules about financial investments made by them or their close relations, including spouse / companion.
1. You may invest in individual equities but are required to hold each stock for a minimum of three months in order to eliminate the possibility of short-term trades based on privileged access to corporate information. Any exceptions must have prior approval of the Executive Editor, in writing.
2. You will not buy or sell shares in a company that competes with ET or its affiliates. You are, however, free to hold and/or sell any such shares that you currently own by virtue of previous employment.
3. You must not engage in, or facilitate, inside dealing. The fundamental principle of inside information is that if you are in possession of non-public (unpublished) information which could have an impact -- negative or positive -- on the value of a financial investment or other investments, you must keep it strictly confidential and not deal or recommend to others to deal in those shares. This restriction applies to your immediate family, friends and associates or any family trusts or other investment vehicle and lasts for as long as the information is outside the public domain.
4. Reporters, researchers and anchorpersons who cover and comment on particular companies may not hold Securities, in the companies they cover, to avoid any conflict between their coverage and investment interests. The principle behind this is that if the story or comment that goes to print or air is expected to have an impact in the price / value of the asset class, it would be conflict of interest for the ET staffer to have a holding in that asset class.
5. In general, you are encouraged not to participate in the futures-and-options segment of the equity market except to hedge your equity investments against market risk through index futures and options. You will not buy or sell single-stock futures.
6. Investments in bonds issued by companies/governments/state agencies/municipalities are permitted as long as these are held for a minimum of three months.
7. There are no restrictions on investments in instruments issued by banks, post offices and small-savings institutions. Mutual fund investments are permitted in any asset class (equity, index, commodity, real estate etc.).
8. You are required to make a disclosure of your securities holdings as per the format prescribed by the Company, at the end of every quarter. The company undertakes to keep your declarations confidential
9. In addition, designated managers and journalists are required to disclose their current portfolio and declare their specific investment transactions during the reporting period in a format prescribed by the company. The management is committed to keeping this information confidential, but reserves the right to share the records with a regulatory / inquiry agency investigating securities fraud or insider trading.

This Code of Conduct along with the Code of Financial Conduct is meant to facilitate our adherence to integrity, not to exhaust unfair ways of information arbitrage. These are central to the Company's mission; any failure to abide by them could attract civil and criminal liability on yourself and on the Company, its Directors and officers, and therefore could be subject to review, and result in disciplinary action, ranging from admonishment to dismissal, depending on the gravity of the infraction. Therefore at all times, employee conduct should conform not only to the rules but also to the principle of integrity.