A very senior News Limited executive said
some years ago that it was wise not to refer to ethics within the organisation.
Ethics were regarded as a communist plot. The appropriate words were
“professional conduct”.

I was reminded of this yesterday when a
News Limited journalist told me they had never heard of the News Limited Code
of Professional Conduct, although they had been working at the organisation for
years. They were commenting on yesterday’s story about Latham and TheDaily Telegraph, which suggested that
the code contained wise words on the appropriate boundaries between private and
public.

The News Limited Code of Conduct, for the
benefit of those Murdoch hacks who have not yet been given a copy, is a 12 page
blue booklet issued in February 1999. It is meant to be binding on all
editorial staff, and a copy is meant to be given to all new employees. Lachlan
Murdoch himself signed off on it shortly after his arrival to run the
Australian outpost.

If it is available on the News Limited
website it certainly isn’t easy to find, unlike the equivalents at Fairfax newspapers here and here. The only mention I could find
was in this old ABC Media Report, in which it was discussed by then editor-in-chief of The
Australian
, David Armstrong.

So does News Limited still take the code
seriously? It is an admirable document,
covering not only the predictable topics of privacy, treatment of children and
accuracy but also issues like dress code. The only problem is, nobody seems to
know it exists.

Perhaps it is time for News Limited to
either formally ditch it, and explain why, or distribute it. That way
journalists could be clear on what their employer expects of them.

Peter Fray

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