Freedom from bias
Reuters would not be Reuters without freedom from bias. We are a “stateless” news service that welcomes diversity into our newsrooms but asks all staff to park their nationality and politics at the door. This neutrality is a hallmark of our news brand and allows us to work on all sides of an issue, conflict or dispute without any agenda other than accurate, fair reporting. Our customers and our sources value Reuters for that quality and it is one we all must work to preserve.
Take no side, tell all sides
As Reuters journalists, we never identify with any side in an issue, a conflict or a dispute. Our text and visual stories need to reflect all sides, not just one. This leads to better journalism because it requires us to stop at each stage of newsgathering and ask ourselves “What do I know?” and “What do I need to know?” In reporting a takeover bid, for example, it should be obvious that the target company must be given an opportunity to state their position. Similarly in a political dispute or military conflict, there are always at least two sides to consider and we risk being perceived as biased if we fail to give adequate space to the various parties.
This objectivity does not always come down to giving equal space to all sides. The perpetrator of an atrocity or the leader of a fringe political group arguably warrants less space than the victims or mainstream political parties. We must, however, always strive to be scrupulously fair and balanced. Allegations should not be portrayed as fact; charges should not be conveyed as a sign of guilt. We have a duty of fairness to give the subjects of such stories the opportunity to put their side.
We must also be on guard against bias in our choice of words. Words like “claimed” or “according to” can suggest we doubt what is being said. Words like “fears” or “hopes” might suggest we are taking sides. Verbs like rebut or refute (which means to disprove) or like fail (as in failed to comment) can imply an editorial judgment and are best avoided. Thinking about language can only improve our writing and our journalism.
Opinion and Analysis
Reuters makes a fundamental distinction between our factual news stories and clearly-labelled opinion pieces.
Reuters journalists do not express their opinions in news stories, voiced video or scripts, or on blogs or chat rooms they may contribute to in the course of their work. This fundamental principle has generated huge trust in Reuters among customers and the public over many years. It holds true for all the types of news that Reuters covers, whether financial or general and in any language or form.
This is not to say that other people’s opinions have no place in our stories. They are very often relevant to the story and are essential for the reader or viewer to understand its meaning and consequences. For that to hold true, quoted opinion must be authoritative and be attributed to a named source. We risk biased reporting if we allow an unnamed source to say, for example, “I believe Company X is on the path to strong revenue growth and see its stock rising by 20 per cent over the next six months.” We have no protection in such a case against the charge that we are working in the interests of unnamed sources to talk up a stock that their firms may have a substantial interest in. We do enjoy that protection if we write: “I believe Company X is on the path to strong revenue growth and see its stock rising by 20 per cent over next six months,” said Joe Mo, a senior equities analyst at Manchuk Fund Manager which holds 7.3 per cent of the company’s share capital.
In our columns and in certain other distinct services we may create, we do allow named authors to express a point of view. We will always clearly label these pieces as being distinct from the factual news file and we will publish disclaimers that say the work does not represent the opinions of Reuters. Those journalists who are allowed to publish “point of view” pieces like columns will express solidly-grounded views in their areas of expertise and will not simply provoke with ungrounded assertions or personal attacks . For more on columnists see the section Columns.
It is the responsibility of senior editors to ensure that we publish a variety of views by aggregating the work of others, by commissioning guest contributions, by encouraging engagement by our audiences in different forms and by reflecting the multiplicity of human perspectives across a varied and diverse news file.
Analysis is a valued part of our news file and should not be confused with items like Columns. Whether in spot copy or as a stand-alone item tagged ANALYSIS, we provide valued insight into events or issues and cast light on them from a new angle without compromising our standards of impartiality or commitment to fairness. The writer’s professional judgment has a large part to play in good analysis though we must take care not to stray into the realm of opinion. Good analysis is supported by the established facts or available data and rests on the use of named sources and the writer’s expertise. Analysis need not reflect the consensus view; indeed some of the best analysis may challenge that view. A story that takes the ANALYSIS tag may also be appropriate for an informative, in-depth look at an issue of interest to a specialist readership, without necessarily needing a spot hook for the story.
Discriminatory language and stereotypes
We must avoid inappropriate references to gender, ethnicity, religion, culture, appearance, age, and sexual orientation. When a story relies on such references, we should ask if it is a Reuters story at all. A Reuters journalist must be sensitive to unconscious stereotyping and dated assumptions. Is it really novel that the person in the news is black, blonde, female, overweight or gay? If it is relevant, does the fact belong in the lead or should it be woven in lower down? Our language should be neutral and natural. When referring to professional groups, plural expressions such as executives and journalists are preferable to gender-specific tags that imply the exclusion of women. We should avoid artificial words such as “spokesperson” when describing a role. We should avoid gratuitous references to appearance or attire, while recognising the situations when these details are relevant. Reporters must resist the assumption that their cultural values, religious beliefs or social mores are the norm. We should also be suspicious of country stereotypes – the usually negative notions about a national character. These can be offensive. References to country stereotypes may be valid in certain well-balanced stories, but we should always proceed with caution, even when seeking to challenge or subvert a preconception. Fuller guidance can be found in the section of this Handbook Reporting about people.
You must not express a personal view in reports on the merits of a particular investment. Reports containing value judgments on investments must be sourced to a named third party. Local laws also impact on our reporting. Reuters reports news. It does not give investment advice and in many countries is prohibited from doing so by law. Reuters journalists should also not give investment advice to customers and/or readers who solicit such advice by any means including telephone, letter, fax or e-mail.
Reporting on Reuters
You must take extreme care to avoid any hint of bias when reporting on the Reuters Group, ensuring that reports are factually based. We need some special rules on reporting Reuters as a company, so we are not seen as talking the company’s shares up or down. A Reuters story about Reuters is perceived by stock markets and market regulators as the official line on the company. When reporting on Reuters subsidiaries or quoting officials and analysts from Reuters subsidiaries it must be stated that these are Reuters companies. Here is how to report on Reuters or a majority-owned subsidiary:
- As a rule, we do not produce initiative reporting of Reuters.
- Any story about Reuters must be marked ATTENTION EDITOR and seen by a regional specialist editor or deputy before transmission.
- Always seek comment from a company spokesman. One should always be available in London or New York.
- No story about Reuters may contain a quote from an unnamed source.
- Any pick-up of a story about Reuters from other media must be marked ATTENTION EDITOR and seen by a regional specialist editor or deputy before transmission. Always seek comment from a company spokesman.
- As with all other pick-ups, we should pick up only stories which are likely to be market-moving or of significant general interest.
Political and Community Activity
Reuters does not give support – directly or indirectly – to any political party or group nor does it take sides in national or international conflicts or disputes in accordance with our Code of Conduct. In keeping with this policy you must not identify the Reuters name with any political party or group or any one side in such conflicts or disputes.
Displays of political affiliation or support for partisan causes have no place in our newsrooms. No member of editorial, whether a journalist or support worker, may wear campaign buttons, badges or items of clothing bearing political slogans on the job, nor bring posters, pamphlets and other political material to the workplace to distribute or display.
Outside work, Reuters respects the right (and in some countries the obligation) of staff to vote in elections and referendums and does not seek to interfere with that right. The company also recognises that staff enjoy certain fundamental freedoms as a result of their nationality or where they live. Reuters, however, expects journalistic staff in all branches of editorial to be keenly sensitive to the risk that their activities outside work may open their impartiality to questioning or create a perception of bias.
Such perceptions can undermine the integrity not only of the individual but of all journalists at Reuters and damage the company’s reputation. In some societies, individuals who sign petitions or join demonstrations may be monitored by the authorities and evidence could be used to damage their reputation or restrict our newsgathering operations. In other countries, individuals who contribute to political campaign funds have their names on the public record. Again, such evidence may be used by those who would seek to undermine the good name of Reuters, its staff or our profession. A policy designed to protect our standing as a news service free from bias cannot be policed. It relies on trust and an expectation that staff will refrain from activities that might, whatever the intention, raise perceptions of a conflict and that they will consult their manager in any case of doubt. Where such perceptions of a conflict do arise, Reuters may in some cases ultimately require the journalist to move to other duties.
Individuals should use their common sense, The
Trust Principles and the values of unbiased journalism in deciding whether to donate to certain charitable causes or be active in the affairs of their community. A conflict is unlikely to arise but staff in any doubt should consult their manager. The same principles apply to any doubts about a possible perception of conflict that may arise from the activities of a close family member.
Equal Opportunity in the Newsroom
Reuters is committed to treating its employees fairly, regardless of gender, ethnic, national or religious background, age, disability, marital status, parental status or sexual orientation. Qualified employees will be given consideration for all job openings regardless of any of the above. The selection of employees included for entry to the company, for training, development and promotion should be determined solely on their skills, abilities and other requirements which are relevant to the job and in accordance with the laws in the country concerned.
Diversity in the Newsroom
Reuters recognises, values and encourages a diverse employment mix. In addition to gender and ethnic origin, the company considers a wide range of backgrounds in terms of experience and knowledge as part of its recruitment and employee development policies. While politics has no place in our newsrooms, diversity does. We welcome the varying perspectives, insights and considerations that diversity of gender, ethnicity, religion, sexual orientation, upbringing, age, marital or parental status, customs and culture bring to the debate about the news we gather. Diversity enriches what we do and there is a place for everyone in the discussion and the exchange of ideas that lead to the best journalism.
Media Interviews and Speaking Engagements
Reuters staff are sometimes asked by broadcasters or print publications to give interviews, often through our media relations unit. We encourage such exposure for our journalists and their expertise. If journalists are willing to be interviewed, they should adhere to the following principles:
- Any interviews have to be approved in advance by the journalist’s manager.
- Interviews with Reuters own services, e.g. RVN, take precedence.
- The request must come from a credible broadcaster or publication that is unlikely to use the interview for propaganda purposes.
- Correspondents must not give personal opinions and should confine themselves largely to what has been reported by Reuters.
- Correspondents should say nothing that could provoke controversy, embarrass Reuters, undermine our reputation for objectivity and impartiality, impair our reporting access or jeopardise staff.
- We must be satisfied that the correspondent is an experienced member of staff upon whom we can rely to act with responsibility and discretion.
- We only allow brief interviews that impinge little on correspondents’ time and do not disrupt their reporting.
- Payment should not be sought. If received, we recommend that it be paid to your charity of choice.
Reuters editorial staff with specialist knowledge may also speak at seminars, conferences and other forums about the areas of their expertise with the approval of their manager. Similar conditions apply as with those for media interviews. Staff must ensure that the credentials of the organisers are such that attending the event as a speaker does not affect Reuters reputation for integrity, independence and freedom from bias.
Editorial staff need authorisation from a senior manager to discuss our editorial or corporate affairs publicly or with other media. If another media organisation asks about our policies (whether editorial or corporate), about staff matters or about stories or images that may be controversial, employees must refer the matter to a manager, who should take details and refer the enquirer to an official company spokesman.
Category: Standards and Values