In an alternative universe, the little dust up I have been having with News Limited over the last few days would have taken a different course. Imagine if it had been this way. After I wrote this article in the Crikey email, News Limited’s spokespeople might have said something like this:

“We dispute your claim that our reporters are not sufficiently aware of our Code of Conduct. But we should publish the Code to the public, including on our webpages, so that our readers are more aware of it and can find it easily. We’ll do that.”

End of story.

But that’s not what happened. Instead, as readers of this blog will see from the previous posts carrying my correspondence with News Limited’s Greg Baxter, an acrimonious correspondence followed, full of fury and attack, culminating in an announcement that the Code would, after all, be published on the company’s masthead websites. It could have been achieved so much more quietly. How News Limited conducts its PR is up to it, of course. But I would have thought this week was hardly copybook methodology.

Today and tonight the Australian’s Media Diarist, Caroline Overington, has gone in to overdrive with vitriol and personal attacks against me and Crikey, all the while insisting that we are insignificant and that nobody cares about us.

Well, glad we got that straight.

I don’t intend to respond in kind. Had Overington’s posts been on this blog, they would have been in breach of its Editorial Policy.

But some of what Overington says needs a response.

She claims:

The point of Simons’ raving is, of course, to try to smear local reporters with the same brush as that of the UK journalists who stand accused of phone tapping, paying off cops, and all manner of other criminal behaviour.

That’s not true. I wrote in this piece that I thought such behaviour was unlikely to happen here, and if it did tabloid television, rather than newspapers, would be the first place to look. I wrote that while it was impossible to be completely confident on the point:

I think it is true that for the most part, Australian journalists would pull up short of bribery and illegal behaviour.

However I have also said, both during this controversy and before now, that awareness of ethical codes and ethical cultures in newsrooms is not nearly good enough. I stand by those comments. In particular I wrote in this piece last Friday that awareness of the Code of Professional Conduct within News Limited was low, and that many reporters employed by News Limited had never read the Code, and many did not even know it existed. I stand by those comments. I know them to be true.

It is true that I also wrote you could not find a copy of the code with a Google, when in fact it has been on the ABC Media Watch site for some time. So I was wrong to that extent. But how ironic that it took Media Watch, and the public broadcaster, to publish the News Limited code, rather than News Limited itself. How telling that Overington was forced to link to the site of a program she is fond of bagging, and on which she has featured, rather than to one run by her own employer.

The central point is that such codes should be freely available to the public, promoted by the media organisations  themselves, and published on mastheads’ websites. It is good that Baxter has now declared that News Limited will do this.

And if this little dust up has lifted awareness of the Code – surely never before so linked and referred to – then it has been a good thing.

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Peter Fray
Peter Fray
Editor-in-chief of Crikey
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