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Not the British Council

The fact that a former Reuters chief executive, a former general manager, retired regional managers and a former adviser to the Reuters Board have lent their support to calls for Thomson Reuters to withdraw its signature to the

UK Armed Forces Covenant illustrates clearly that this is an issue touching all Reuter people and not just the editorial side of the company's business.


Top managers I came across, or reported to, in my 35 years as a correspondent were as committed as the journalists to the ethos of Reuters independence and keeping governments anywhere - let alone that of the UK - at arms length.


They also shared editorial's commitment to giving no grounds for Reuters to be perceived as a national agency. Compare and contrast the Thomson Reuters pledge on signing the covenant to "support" the UK armed forces community and "honour" it for its contribution "to our business and OUR country."


And to seek the same community's regular approval for "how we're doing”.


I recall one of our own top brass of the day telling me when I went to Moscow for the first time: "Remember Reuters isn't a British trade mission, and it's not the British Council. It's not British anything. Never give grounds for anyone to say that it is.”


It is as encouraging to see former managers standing firmly by this view as it is disturbing to see new ones carelessly jettisoning it.


Decades have passed since the geographic location of its headquarters and the preponderance (then) of Brits among its staff brought Reuters the label "the British news agency" - a misnomer Soviet officials, among others, delighted in using when they wanted to harass Reuter journalists, or worse.


But in my memory, the old Reuters left no doubt among its staff on what it was. The "Basic Brief for Correspondents" I was given before my first posting to Moscow in 1965 opened with the following: "Reuters is an independent world news agency which takes no sides in politics, disputes or differences between parties, peoples or nations."


At least the old-timers - managers and journalists - haven't forgotten that. ■