Earlier today, I got a couple of emails from News Limited spin doctor Greg Baxter in response to this story in Crikey today. To read Baxter in full, see this earlier post. What follows below are my responses, interspersed with his comments

Margaret, you have misrepresented me badly in your item today for Crikey. I have previously sent you a copy of our professional conduct policy. I have also previously sent it to Media Watch and to any other media outlet that has asked for it. I have also sent it to academics and journalism students on a routine basis. I have never as far as I can recall refused to provide a copy to anyone that has asked for it.

Baxter may have sent me a copy of the policy previously, though I don’t remember him doing so.  In any case, it is irrelevant. I have had a copy of the various versions of the policy for years – ever since it was first issued in the 1990s. Baxter only joined News Limited in 2004, after leaving his previous job as spin doctor for James Hardie. I certainly had a copy of the policy long before that, and have also made a point of seeking out copies of the updates.

But whether or not Baxter has previously sent the policy to media outlets is not the point. What I was pointing out is that this vital document, proclaimed by CEO John Hartigan as central to the relationship of trust between media outlet and readers, is not published in a fashion that makes it easy for ordinary readers to find. The Media Entertainment and Arts Alliance Code of Ethics for Journalists is easy to find. So too the Australian Press Council principles. So too the ABC Editorial Policies. The News Limited Code? Not so. Why isn’t if published on the web, and hotlinked from all the mastheads’ home pages?

If anyone wants a copy of Crikey’s code of conduct or your own can they get one? Meanwhile, please send me Crikey’s code and your own code as a professional journalist and blogger.

I will answer for myself first of all. My blog has, since its earliest days, carried this page on which I declare the codes I follow, and the editorial policy under which I operate this blog. Not so hard to find.

Since the beginning of my career, I have been a member of the Australian Journalists’ Association (now the Media Entertainment and Arts Alliance) and have therefore been bound by that organisation’s code of ethics. In the past, I have served on the Victorian judiciary committee, which has a role in adjudicating complaints made under that code.

As for Crikey, its home page includes a Mission Statement. I regard it as woefully inadequate, and have said so internally and in previous publications. I am a retained contributor to Crikey, and have no power over editorial policies. However, I know that Crikey is presently considering a process to devise an ethical code for its staff journalists and contributors, and there will announcements about this soon. This is late in the day, I agree. And while not excusing Crikey’s tardiness, I will point out that it is a small, relatively young operator with an audience in the tens of thousands. News Limited is part of an international media conglomerate, and this country’s overwhelmingly dominant newspaper publisher. One would think that publishing its ethical code on a website should not be beyond its ability.

I have already responded to your erroneous points about whether there are any journalists at News that claim to have not seen it or received it. I am sure there are some. And as I said, there is no excuse for them not to have seen it or to have a copy. The fact that you have received all of 10 responses from a total staff of about 10,000 – including 3000 editorial staff – tells its own story.

The responses are still rolling in. They tell their own story. While some agree that they were given a copy of the code, the majority say they were not. See previous posts

I am also sending you a copy of the code of conduct for Nationwide News which publishes The Daily Telegraph and the Sunday Telegraph and tomorrow HWT will be issuing an updated policy that has been in the works for 3 months that deals with professional conduct, social media and external media appearances by our staff.

Regards, Greg

Margaret, as per my earlier email I have just discovered that the Nationwide policy was included in the News Limited policywhen it was last updated so there is no separate document. As far as I can tell the major metro divisions all now use the same policy. The HWT policy has been expanded to deal with social media in particular which has been rolled out across the divisions progressively from News Digital Media.

Greg Baxter| Director, Corporate Affairs

Baxter seems to be a bit confused about the policy, and how it applies and has applied in the past.

In fact, ever since it was first devised, and before the recent updates, it was intended to apply to all News Limited publications, including metro dailies and community and suburban newspapers. I am aware that the HWT policy has recently been expanded – a process that pre-dates the recent fuss over the News of the World, just in case anyone was wondering. Why the HWT has gone down its own road on some matters, and how this policy fits with the overarching News Limited policy, are questions I have asked but to which I have not yet received answers.

In the absence of more information, it all looks a bit messy, and far from the consistent process one would hope for from Australia’s dominant media organisation.

Not that there is anything wrong with the News Limited policy. I like it, and Crikey will publish it in full for all to see tomorrow.

Then the readers can judge how it governs journalists’ work.

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