Commentary

'FT' Reporter Probe Will Test Code Of Conduct

The Financial Times suspended a reporter while it investigates accusations that he listened to private video calls at two rival British newspapers. It's too early to tell what the FTwill find in its probe, but press reports on the matter suggest a serious breach of the newspaper's code of conduct.

Mark Di Stefano, a former BuzzFeed reporter who covers the media industry for the FT, this month allegedly gained unauthorized access to internal staff meetings the Independent and Evening Standardnewspapers held on video calling site Zoom. In each meeting, management explained the financial consequences of the pandemic would include pay cuts and worker furloughs.

Di Stefano posted key details from the meetings to his Twitter account, which has more than 100,000 followers.

The Independent, which conducted its own investigation into the incidents, reported that Zoom's log files showed an account registered to Di Stefano's work email joined the April 23 video call very briefly. Journalists saw his name appear on their screens, though the caller's video was disabled.

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A separate unnamed account joined the call five minutes later, again with the video blacked out to avoid showing the caller's face. the Independentdetermined the anonymous user account was linked to Di Stefano's cellphone number.

The FT subsequently published Di Stefano's report about the Independent's plans that included confidential details about its declining ad sales. His story cited "people on the call" as the source for those details, including a quote from CEO Zach Leonard.

The Independent also found that a Zoom account linked to Di Stefano’s cellphone accessed an Evening Standard video call on April 1, when editor George Osborne announced furloughs and salary cuts. Di Stefano also tweeted out details from the meeting, citing an "internal Zoom call," and reported the story in the FT.

The business newspaper started to investigate Di Stefano after The Independent presented its allegations to senior executives, The Guardianreported.

The incidents may not be comparable to the phone-hacking scandal that led to Rupert Murdoch to shut down News of the World in 2011, but the Independent's allegations suggest that Di Stefano violated standards of conduct for journalists.

"Avoid undercover or other surreptitious methods of gathering information unless traditional, open methods will not yield information vital to the public," is a principle in the Society of Professional Journalists' code of ethics.

The FThas a more specific rule that says, “the press must not seek to obtain or publish material acquired by … intercepting private or mobile telephone calls, messages or emails." Failure to abide by the code is grounds for disciplinary action, including getting fired.

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