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Outcry against Covenant, but no answers

A Reuters chief executive, three editors-in-chief, a general manager, numerous editors, bureau chiefs, correspondents and business managers - all now retired - have condemned Thomson Reuters pledge to support members of UK Armed Forces.

Reactions to news of the Covenant express dismay, alarm, anger, indignation, outrage and disbelief at the apparent violation of the Trust Principles drafted in time of global conflict 80 years ago to safeguard Reuters editorial independence and integrity.

 

Many called for the company’s signature on the Armed Forces Covenant to be rescinded.

 

Those who wrote for publication in the Comment section of The Baron include

 

  • Sir Peter Job, former chief executive: “Correspondents often need the help of the military in dangerous places around the world. We do our job and they do theirs, often with mutual respect. These are business relationships. For management to see them in any other way indicates a lack of understanding, or lack of interest in our editorial determination to side with nobody. In a world in which partiality is rife, the asset of impartiality is, now more than ever, not one to be trifled with.”
  • Michael Nelson, former general manager: “I strongly support a dĂ©marche to Thomson Reuters to rescind its signature on the Armed Forces Covenant.”
  • David Ure, former strategy advisor to the board: “This [Armed Forces Covenant] is an astonishing blunder and by a veteran employee too. Hard to believe it is not a hoax ... Assuming it is real but little known a missive to the Founders Share Company copied to the new editor-in-chief suggesting it is immediately rescinded and staff informed with the reason might repair the damage.”
  • Michael Reupke, former editor-in-chief: “The armed forces covenant is sheer lunacy. It flies in the face of everything for which the Trust stood and at one stroke discards the principles of objectivity and impartiality for which hundreds of us worked for decades. It make a nonsense of Reuters worldwide reputation as THE reporter to be believed and trusted … I challenge the Trustees, the directors of the Thomson Reuters Founders Share Company, to resign in shame for failing to stop the company from flouting that most important of all Reuters Trust Principles, its independence and impartiality, in pledging to support members of the UK Armed Forces.”
  • Geert Linnebank, former editor-in-chief: “For some years now these principles are being trumpeted more loudly, proudly, publicly than ever before: each one of the thousands of Reuters daily news stories mentions them, and references appear, almost ad nauseam, in many other company communications. It is ironic that they should sustain such damage when they’re being advertised so assiduously.”
  • David Schlesinger, former editor-in-chief: “Having spent decades explaining, educating, exhorting, and insisting on the distinction between a news agency like Reuters and a state-owned Party-loyal news organisation, I feel a certain weary despair that a statement signed without deep thought or analysis could cause so much damage to the cause.”
  • Jonathan Fenby, former editor: “The signature of the Covenant is a blatant breach of the independence which lies at the heart of Reuters. It has to be rescinded.”
  • Michael Cooling, former correspondent, editor and investor relations manager: “The action of signing the Covenant is one that challenges the raison d’ĂȘtre of a news organisation which survived because of its impartiality often challenged but never diminished.”
  • Marcus Ferrar, former correspondent and business manager: Thomson Reuters’ decision to sign a covenant pledging to support members of the British armed forces in one stroke destroys Reuters’ much valued reputation for independence and impartiality. I am astonished that the management of Thomson Reuters seems to care nothing for this great asset, which engendered trust for Reuters by people all over the world, including in Communist Eastern Europe, from where I used to report ... I wonder whether Alessandra Galloni, Reuters new editor-in-chief, goes along with all this. Did she know about it? Does she condone it? I last read that she wanted journalists to ‘break glass’. But does she also want them to be independent and impartial? If not, following what principles does she intend to continue as editor-in-chief?”
  • Bernd Debusmann, former correspondent, bureau chief and editor: “The Armed Forces Covenant, signed by a corporate lawyer and announced by the company’s chief operating officer for human resources, raises a number of questions, chief of which is What Were They Thinking? And what prompted this extraordinary departure from decades of efforts to avoid association with any government or group?”
  • Barry Moody, former bureau chief and editor: “Perhaps this is the moment for the Trustees, who gave the Thomson takeover the nod despite its contravention of one of the Trust Principles, to finally get off their hands and take some meaningful action before it is too late.”
  • Paul Holmes, former bureau chief and editor: “Thomson Reuters should cut its losses and reverse course, before the understandable furore grows even louder and the company is forced into backing down.”
  • Bob Evans, former bureau chief: “It will of course be embarrassing for Reuters to cancel its signature. But this step has, in my view, to be taken, even though the damage has already been done and any authoritarian regime or extremist group seeking to undermine Reuters reputation as an independent and impartial news organisation beholden to no ‘country', will certainly seize upon the covenant episode as grist to its mill. Such regimes may also find this affair very useful in targeting individual Reuter journalists or other media workers linked with Reuters.”

 

On 8 November, The Baron submitted nine questions about the Covenant to Thomson Reuters. Thus far the company has not provided answers. The questions are:

 

1. What was the genesis of this covenant?

 

2. How did Thomson Reuters come to sign it?

 

3. Was it a request from the UK military or a department of the UK Government or was it a corporate initiative?

 

4. Did Reuters Editor-in-Chief or any other senior Newsroom executive have any input or know about it beforehand?

 

5. Was the Founders’ Share Company informed either before or after its signing?

 

6. If so, what was its reaction?

 

7. How has it been presented to the staff of Thomson Reuters, in particular those of Reuters News?

 

8. Has Thomson Reuters signed similar covenants in other countries, e.g. Canada and the United States?

 

9. If not, why do so with the UK?

 

Trustees of Thomson Reuters Founders Share Company, guardians of the Trust Principles, have made no public statement about the controversy. ■

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