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Commentary service ends probe into staff share trading

Reuters Breakingviews, the financial commentary service in the spotlight over its columnists' potential conflicts of interest, has concluded its investigation and Reuters as a whole is reviewing its own procedures and training to minimise the chance of anything like it recurring, the editor of the service said on Monday.

Hugo Dixon said that, where necessary, appropriate action had been taken. 

Columnist Neil Collins resigned recently after multiple breaches of the Thomson Reuters code of conduct on dealing in shares he wrote about.

“Reuters Breakingviews is more used to commenting on other organisations' behaviour than to having its own actions put under the microscope,” Dixon wrote in an online letter to subscribers. “But in the last week, as a result of retroactive disclaimers we made to a series of articles in order to clarify potential conflicts of interest, we have rightly been under scrutiny.” 

He noted that Reuters’ Handbook of Journalism forbids journalists from dealing in "securities about which they have written recently or about which they intend to write in the near future". It also requires them to notify their manager before writing about a company in which they have a financial interest. The purpose of these rules is to avoid actual or apparent conflicts of interest.

“Late last month, a journalist told one of our editors that he had acquired BP shares near their trough following the Gulf of Mexico blow-out. The columnist had written about BP around the time he bought the shares. After further inquiries, it emerged that he had traded in six other stocks (of which four involved taking up his rights in rights issues) within one month either side of writing about them. He also disclosed that he had written about another eight stocks in which he had a significant financial interest. In total, 15 stocks were affected and 39 stories were re-filed with disclaimers. Although we found no evidence that the columnist had abused his journalistic position for financial gain, we view this as a serious matter. The journalist resigned.”

All other Breakingviews columnists have been asked whether there were any potential conflicts of interest, Dixon said. As a result, stories by two columnists were re-filed with disclaimers. “In one, the journalist dealt in securities once within a month either side of writing about them, although the size of the investment was not significant. In the other, disclosure was made to the journalist's then-manager - complying with Reuters policy - but an inconsistent approach was taken in disclosing this to readers.”

The process is now concluded and, where necessary, appropriate action has been taken, Dixon said, adding: “Reuters as a whole is reviewing its own procedures and training to minimise the chance of anything like this recurring. In the meantime, Breakingviews will enforce the existing code vigorously.” ■

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