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Killing the covenant

The two Thomson Reuters executives who took the company into a "covenant" with the UK "Armed Forces Community" now say, in a self-justificatory internal note to staff, that they have told the (also UK) Ministry of Defence that their signature is being withdrawn.


This has been decided, they say, "after careful review and consultation." It is a pity that before signing the pact they didn't consult anyone with just a basic knowledge of the constraints faced by Reuter journalists and managers in many countries around the world. If they had, they might also have learned earlier about the Trust Principles.


They say they were prompted to their sharp about-turn by the "feedback" from colleagues (which I presume includes protests on The Baron from retired Reuter veterans of different parts of the old company) and by the desire "to preserve the safety and neutrality of our reporters."


I have no real wish (neither, I am sure, has Marcus Ferrar in his latest comment on the affair - Thomson Reuters climbs down - or does it? - to add to the clear discomfiture of the covenant signatories, but they seem still to be missing the point.


By using Reuters name in the way they have, as others have also argued, they have already undermined the company's hard-fought standing as a genuinely neutral, independent, international organisation with no "country" and no link to any government (let alone any ministry of defence).


And by backing away under pressure from what they have done, they are not preserving anything but simply engaging in damage limitation. I doubt that potentates around the globe looking for an excuse to rid their countries of  turbulent Reuter reporters will pay much attention to Thomson Reuters "correction" to the original story.


The 1964 "Basic Brief for Correspondents" by legendary editor Doon Campbell told newly-fledged reporters that their first concern should be preserving Reuters reputation for accuracy and impartiality. But the Brief had another injunction.


"If we make a mistake," it said, "we must correct it promptly without attempting to conceal the error.” Then it adds: "If we are in the wrong for the whole of a story, kill. If the matter is serious, the 'kill' must be cabled Urgent Press or given a priority marking..."


Perhaps the two well-intentioned Thomson Reuters executives might take note. ■