ABC editorial policies are likely to change to tackle the contentious issue of when journalists should allow sources to speak off the record.
ABC Managing Director Mark Scott said this morning that he wanted the ABC to lead the debate on journalistic ethical questions such as this one.
He has ordered a review by the ABC’s Director of Editorial Policies, Paul Chadwick, of the ethical issues raised by the Costello dinner affair.
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Scott expects this to result in a recommendation to the Board for changes to the editorial guidelines to “sharpen them up” and give guidance on balancing journalistic guarantees of confidentiality with the public interests in disclosure of information.
Scott also wants Chadwick to provide guidance for journalists on what to do when they become participants in stories, rather than purely observers. At the moment the ABC’s extensive editorial guidelines are silent on these issues.
Meanwhile the ABC has taken the innovative step of opening a webpage on The 7.30 Report site specifically devoted to the ethical issues raised by the Costello Dinner Saga and reporter Michael Brissenden’s conduct in the affair.
Brissenden, of course, was one of three journalists who had dinner with Peter Costello in June 2005, and agreed retrospectively — after pleading from Costello’s spin doctor – not to report the Treasurer’s intention to set a deadline after which he would challenge the Prime Minster for the leadership, and undermine him if the challenge did not succeed.
Brissenden then decided last week to report the conversation after all, because Costello had lied about it.
Now Chadwick, who is probably the leading authority on journalistic ethics in Australia, will have his say, after, Scott says, researching “best practice” around the world and speaking to the people involved.
At this stage his report will go to Scott. Let’s hope it is made public. The murky area of journalists and their sources – particularly the way the game is played in the Canberra Press Gallery – could do with as much ventilation and discussion as possible.