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Crossing the line at Reuters

Reuters crossed a line when it started running comment on its news wire, a financial commentator said on Tuesday.

The blurring between fact and opinion undermines the credibility of the wire service, Daily Mail City editor Alex Brummer wrote in a commentary on Monday’s disclosure that columnist Neil Collins had resigned from Reuters Breakingviews over his share dealings.

“The big question which arises from the share dealing disclosures at Reuters Breakingviews is for the news agency itself,” Brummer wrote.

“Newspapers and broadcasters worldwide have long looked to Reuters and the other major news wires as a reliable sources of verifiable information.

“When Reuters started running comment on its news wire - mixed up with actual news reporting - it crossed a line.

“It deepened the error when it opted to buy Breakingviews and bring all the comment, including that by Neil Collins - one of Britain's respected financial wordsmiths, under one roof. The line between fact and comment was blurred. 

“There was a clear case of this muddle last week when a Breakingviews journalist wrote a report suggesting that Barclays was looking at a new form of debt issue to augment its capital. 

“Because this appeared on the Reuters wire it was taken as reliable information even though there was no verification from Barclays. This kind of blurring between fact and opinion undermines the credibility of the wire service.”

It was right that Reuters enforced its own disclosure code on share ownership and dealings, Brummer said. As soon as Collins became aware that he might have breached the code he did the honourable thing and resigned.

Brummer added that if Reuters' excursion into the world of comment were to be used as an excuse to bring the curtain down on the free exchange of information between journalists, financial firms and other actors in the markets that would be a serious misjudgement.

In the London Evening Standard, Simon English said Collins had paid a high price for ignoring his own advice to Daily Telegraph reporters about a decade ago about how not to fall foul of rules regarding journalists buying shares in companies they might find themselves writing about.

English added: “It would have been braver and more honourable of Reuters to have decided whether the journalist had done anything actually wrong (as opposed to something that infringes their awkward rules) before they hung him out to dry, but this was apparently beyond them.

“The idea, proposed by some, that financial journalists should be entirely banned from any share-dealing, seems absurd. The test for wrongdoing ought to be whether the editorial might move the share price.”

English said it was important that the Financial Services Authority, which should quickly satisfy itself that there was no wider case to answer, did not use the incident as an excuse to force through new rules regarding the passing of information between journalists and people in the City.

“One of the premier financial journalists of the age is paying a high price for a minor misdemeanour,” he added. “He needed to listen to his own advice more closely.” ■

Daily Mail