The editor of the Financial Times has upheld his paper’s code of practice as a “model for self-regulation” at the Leveson Inquiry.
Lionel Barber told the Inquiry that the broadsheet’s internal code of practice goes further than PCC code with its provisions for data protection and strict rules governing share ownership and trading among its staff.
“FT journalists do not break the law”, Barber said.
While upholding the Press Complaint’s Commission’s mediation function as timely, fair and thorough, he argued that the current PCC code needs enforcement before serious amendments were to be made. He said that, in the case of phone hacking, it had not been enforced enough, adding later that it was “very difficult” for the body, as they had been lied to by News International over the extent of the practice.
“If this isn’t a wake-up call I don’t know what is,” he said of the closure of the News of the World.
He spoke in favour of fines being levied for serious breaches, arguing for a new body with investigatory powers and stronger leadership. He called for prominent corrections, but conceded that editors “hate” making them.
He also criticised the current PCC for being “dominated by insiders” for too long, giving the image of a “cosy stitch-up”. He said journalists should not fear being accountable, and that a new system must be credible “not just credible to those who are part of system”.
Responding to Barber’s suggestions, Lord Justice Leveson said, “it won’t be good enough to tinker around the edges”, arguing that a new, improved body must “work for public and the press.”
Barber, who has been editor of the paper since 2005, said that the title should “be the gold standard in journalism”.
He went on to say that multiple-source policy was “ingrained” at the paper, noting that using two sources for a story was a “minimum”. He said relying on one source opened a reporter up to manipulation and being misled, arguing he would rather “be right than first.”
He said using anonymous sources in financial journalism was “problematic”, adding that the FT has ban on the use of “it is understood that” and any loose use of the word “sources” (but not “sources close to”).
He also called prior notification a “dangerous path”, arguing that “you never want to get so close to a source that you’re offering prior notification or sharing everything.”
He alluded to the costly nature of libel claims in the UK, adding that they can have a “chilling effect” despite the robustness of a story.
He concluded, “I strongly believe there is a public interest in freedom of expression itself,” citing Hungary and South Africa as disturbing examples of infringements made to media freedom.
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