Legal guidance

Reuters’ ethical standards far exceed what is required of us under the law. Most often, our commitment to accuracy, fairness and responsible news gathering assures that we comply with our legal obligations around the world.

No set of guidelines can address every issue that may arise. Journalism also involves judgment, and every situation, every story is different. We’re also a global news organization, meaning no single country’s laws prescribe what we publish across the file.

Even so, the guidance in this section reflects fundamental, international legal principles that govern newsgathering, publication and our conduct as journalists.

When in doubt, consult a lawyer for Reuters.

Contents

Newsgathering: Sources

Solid sources are the foundation of a strong legal defense. The best sources are reliable, agree to be identified in the story, and well placed to know the information they share with Reuters.

Be honest with sources

Be honest with sources about who you are and what you are doing. Do not pretend to be someone that you are not or sign anything that contains misstatements. If asked to identify your employer, state “Reuters.” If you solicit information online, identify yourself as a Reuters journalist.

Do not mislead sources about the nature of the story. When first approaching a source, you do not have to disclose every aspect of your news gathering or all the facts a story may include, but you cannot deceive. Similarly, if a photo or video subject asks about the potential distribution of his or her image, be clear that we are global news organization with media and other clients around the world.

Ensure sources are credible

Just because a source conveys certain information to us does not mean it is true. We need to do our own investigation. There’s no privilege that protects us from publishing information or quotes from a source. We need to have reason to believe it is accurate.

In general, aim to confirm information provided to you by a source through further sourcing and information-gathering. If you are relying on a single source, consult your editor and take all reasonable measures to substantiate the information.

If a source is potentially biased or has an ax to grind, disclose it in the story.

If a source provides you with a document, take steps to ensure that the document is real and what it purports to be.

Making the deal: Be clear and aim to keep sources on the record

Agreements with sources about what we will do with the information they give us, and whether or how we will identify the source, are binding, legally enforceable agreements.

Aim to keep sources on the record. An on-the-record source agrees that Reuters can attribute the information provided to the source, by name, in the published story. On-the-record sources provide crucial credibility, not just with our readers, but in the eyes of the law. In the event of a lawsuit, anonymous or confidential sources risk a legal determination that we had no source at all – meaning we made it up.

If a source won’t go on the record, you are not obligated to agree to accept the information. You may decide that if you can’t name the source, or the source’s terms for giving you the information are otherwise too restrictive, you do not wish to receive the information on those terms. But if you do, be clear with the source about the precise terms of the deal. Avoid confusing terminology such as “on background,” “not for attribution” or “off the record,” as these terms mean different things to different people.

You and the source should understand what Reuters can do with the information provided by the source and if Reuters can disclose at least some identifying characteristics about the source in the story. Agree with the source on the most specific attribution possible. For example, a “lawyer for the company” is preferable to “a person familiar with the matter.”

Communicating with sources

In any lawsuit, a key inquiry will be whether we acted responsibly in newsgathering. To that end, all communications with sources, including emails, should be respectful, unbiased and tonally neutral. Ask open-ended questions, without making accusations or drawing conclusions.

You have no legal obligation to read back quotes to a source.

Stories are the property of Reuters and cannot be disclosed before publication. Respectfully decline if a source asks to see a story before it is published or asks you to disclose the date on which a story will be published.

Recording

Understand and follow the laws of recording telephone or other private conversations in the place where you gather the news. You need consent before pressing “record” if your source is in a country that requires consent, even if you – the reporter – are in a country that does not.

In general, even if the law is more forgiving, best practice is to get consent before pressing “record.”

Notes

Take good notes in your discussions with sources. They are crucial in the event of a lawsuit or other post-publication dispute.

Establish your own rule for how long you will keep your notes, and stick to it. Put it into your calendar – every 15 months, for example – rather than relying on something as vague as “when the drawer or inbox folder is full.”

Notwithstanding your rule, do not destroy documents and notes once you are on notice of a potential legal claim or you receive a hold notice from the legal department.

Newsgathering: Comment

Speed is of the essence in real-time news gathering but accuracy and fairness are paramount.

Seeking comment

Responsible journalism requires that the views of all subjects are fairly represented, particularly when the subjects are the focus of a story, or if what we are saying about an individual or institution may cause reputational damage.

Seek fresh comment from your subject for every story. Don’t assume prior “no comment” applies to your current story.

Using comment

If the subject comments, include the subject’s point of view in the published story. Do not bury the comment; give it fair play in the published report.

If the subject declines to comment, provide the subject’s point of view, if it can be determined, in the published story. This may be a statement from another credible on-the-record source or information drawn from Reuters prior reporting.

If a subject comments after publication, update a story as quickly as possible. If the comment comes a day or more after publication, consult your editor.

Newsgathering: Access to information

Trespass

Do not trespass, including by misrepresenting the reason for being in a certain place or going beyond the boundaries of a property holder’s consent.

Do not defeat passwords or other online security methods, steal data or documents, tap telephones, hack computer systems or engage in any similar activity.

To dial into a meeting or conference call, such as an investor call, ensure you have permission from a person authorized to give permission, as opposed to someone who is just a participant and/or in possession of the dial-in number.

Calls and recordings

If you are listening to a call into which someone else has dialed, you must give your name and affiliation with Reuters if participants are asked to identify themselves.

Video and photo journalists should avoid ambush interviews or surreptitious recording practices. Ensure that the fact you are recording is obvious to a source, keeping your camera or device visible to those around you.

Embargoes

Embargoes are binding contractual agreements between you and your source.

Check with your editor before agreeing to an embargo.

The embargo should bind only you, not all of Thomson Reuters or Reuters, and should apply only to the specific document or information provided to you by the source. The terms should reflect that: (a) if you receive the same information from other, independent means, the embargo does not prevent you from publishing the information at any time; and (b) if another Reuters reporter gains independent access to the information, Reuters can publish the material.

Certain institutional embargo arrangements – such as those that Reuters and its competitors arrange with government agencies for the release of economic data – may be subject to their own rules.

Newsgathering: Social media

There are no special legal rules for blogs or social media. While social media can be a newsgathering tool, special care is needed in this context to ensure that we are relying on credible, knowledgeable sources.

Be skeptical. Information reflected in social media should be the subject of further reporting and investigation. Remember that just because information appears on Twitter or Facebook, it does not mean it’s true. These platforms can be used by people pretending to be someone they are not or to convey untruths. Run it down and carefully evaluate its reliability before publishing. As with any other source, some social media sources are better than others; a verified White House Twitter feed, for example, is a better social media source than a Twitter feed of a lay person with whom you have no prior knowledge or experience.

Newsgathering: Copyright

Get permission to publish third-party content

Videos, films, photographs, news articles, music and literary works generally are all protected by copyright. Unless there has been a transfer of ownership, the creator or the creator’s employer has the exclusive right to display, reproduce and distribute the copyrighted work.

The term “public domain” does not refer to works that the public can access on the Internet or social media. Instead, it refers to the lapse of the owner’s exclusive right to the work. To be clear: Images on social media and Internet sites are protected by copyright. Before distributing those images, get permission from the copyright holder.

To acquire permission to republish or redistribute someone else’s copyright work, i.e., a “license,” make sure that the person has the right to license the work to Reuters. Possession is not enough. It’s also unlikely that the subject of a photograph owns the copyright. In the social media context, be aware that the person who posted the image may not necessarily own it.

Be careful when getting permission from someone other than the creator of the work, especially when dealing with persons who may not be sophisticated about copyright. In those situations, we should ask the licensee to promise in writing that the copyright owner has given the licensee permission to license the work to Reuters. If, even with the written promise, you still have doubts, ask to see proof of the copyright owner having given permission to the licensee.

The license should be in writing and clear about Reuters’ anticipated use of the copyrighted work. It should state that we will distribute the content world-wide, and set forth the scope of distribution (Reuters.com, to media and other subscribers for their further editorial use, Reuters TV, Eikon, etc.), whether we have the right to resell the work in our archives or otherwise, the duration of the license (can we reuse the work perpetually or only for a limited time), and whether the license is exclusive to Reuters.

Note that if a source provides copyrighted content, such as a photo or video, for Reuters’ “editorial use,” we can use the image on our consumer platforms such Reuters.com. But we should not distribute it to our Agency customers without further permission from the source.

The legal doctrines of “fair use” and “fair dealing” have limited application, particularly to Reuters. While some countries’ laws may allow us to republish discrete portions of a third party’s copyrighted work on our consumer platforms without express consent of the copyright holder, it is highly unlikely that those same laws will allow us to redistribute to our Agency customers. And before relying on “fair use” or “fair dealing” at all, consult legal counsel for Reuters. At the end of the day, it’s a legal analysis.

Publication: Accuracy and fairness

A libel claim is a false statement of fact about a person that casts him or her in a negative light, thereby harming the person’s reputation. Corporations or other entities can also assert libel claims based on our reporting. Accusations of fraud, theft or other criminal misconduct, deceit, poor professional performance, shaky financials or adultery are all examples of statements that may give rise to a libel claim.

Because Reuters’ imperative is to tell the truth, by any country’s legal standards we should be able to defeat a claim for libel if our newsgathering was responsible and our content is accurate.

A few basic guidelines for text journalists to meet that standard:

  • Stick to the facts in reporting a story, without overstating the case or jumping to conclusions.
  • Avoid vagueness: Imprecise statements can cause a reader to construe a story as making a more serious allegation than the facts warrant.
  • Acknowledge key facts that our reporting could not resolve and state explicitly why a situation may be more nuanced or complicated than it first appeared.
  • Ask yourself: If this story were about a family member, would you find it fair?

Visual journalists should not stage, doctor or manipulate images, and follow the same standards as text journalists in writing captions.

Tone and freedom from bias

Personal opinions have no place in Reuters news coverage. Our goal is to be as impartial as possible without taking sides. In the event of a legal challenge, a court is more likely to find that a biased news story reflects reckless or irresponsible journalism.

To meet that standard:

  • Avoid hyperbole and inflammatory language or assuming the truth of allegations against a story’s subject. For example, “said” is a neutral verb and preferable to “admitted” or “argued.”
  • Be sure to attribute allegations. For example, if a prosecutor has charged a person with a crime, make clear throughout the text of the story that the prosecutor is the source of the crime allegation.
  • If a statement is contentious, put the source at the beginning of a sentence.

If we quote a source’s opinion in a news story, we must include in the story the facts on which that opinion is based. The source’s assurance, “Trust me, I know,” is not sufficient.

Opinion pieces should be labeled and aren’t subject to the same restrictions, although even in opinion pieces, the facts on which an opinion is based must be disclosed.

Rumors

Do not repeat a rumor in a story unless the purpose is to report that the rumor is moving a financial market. The key is not to republish the rumor as if it is true.

Attribute the rumor to its source and note whether Reuters has yet to substantiate it one way or another and/or the steps we have taken to verify or debunk it.

Other media reports

Reuters is legally responsible for all content we publish, even if we attribute the content to another person or entity.

When we publish information attributed to another media entity, the media source should be reputable and the information should appear to be supported by facts. In cases of particularly sensitive and important information, we should disclose if we haven’t been able to confirm the information and try to do so as quickly as possible.

Publication: Privacy

Privacy laws around the world vary widely. In some jurisdictions such as the United States, privacy laws are modest, and very little information that Reuters would ordinarily publish is covered by privacy laws. In Western Europe, the sphere of private information is much broader.

If we are publishing personal, private or embarrassing information about a person, such as information relating to medical treatment, health conditions, finances or abuse, ask yourself if the information is really in the public interest, as opposed to salacious detail. For elected officials or other persons in a position of power, it may be that the information is important for the world to know. For private persons, we have a far less persuasive rationale for disclosing sensitive information to the world.

Text journalists: Make clear in the story why this information is relevant and matters.

Visual journalists: Know the privacy laws in your jurisdiction regarding acceptable images and whether you need consent from a photo or video subject prior to publication. While in some places, images of individuals in public places are perfectly lawful to publish, in others those same images may run afoul of local privacy laws, and we may have to remove them if published.

Text and visual journalists: Be especially cognizant of information about and images of minors (children under the age of 18), as only their parents or guardians can consent to the publication of certain information about a minor.

Publication: Be aware of the laws in your jurisdiction

You are not required to be a lawyer and have an encyclopedic knowledge of all of the laws in the country or region in which you operate, but you should have a basic awareness of potential legal issues so that you can flag them up to editorial counsel for Reuters for further discussion.

Examples of country-specific laws that require special consideration:

• In the U.K., contempt laws prohibit the publication of content that creates a substantial risk of serious prejudice to the administration of justice. The concern is with prejudicing a jury and thereby influencing the outcome of a trial. That means that if we wish to publish about a story about a criminal defendant’s prior bad acts or evidence that has yet to be introduced in a trial, the story should go through legal review.

  • The U.K.’s tort of breach of confidence forbids the publication of information if we know that the information is subject to a confidentiality agreement between third parties.
  • In Germany, it is unlawful to report on pending criminal investigations except in limited circumstances.
  • Thailand’s lèse-majesté law bars defamatory, insulting or threatening comments about the king, the royal family or Buddhism.
  • Singapore’s Sedition Act criminalizes content that: promotes feelings of ill-will and hostility between different races or classes; agitates against the government or the administration of justice; fosters discontent among citizens; or promotes hostility among ethnic groups. News organizations and journalists have been prosecuted under this provision for questioning the integrity of the judiciary.
  • In the United Arab Emirates, derogatory statements about the royal family and government officials violate local laws.

The foregoing list is not exhaustive, nor does a local law of this type mean that we don’t publish. Instead, it should trigger legal review and discussion together with the Global Editor of Ethics and Standards prior to publication.

Other best practices

Protecting our newsgathering: Requests for information

Do not provide newsgathering materials such as notes, outtakes, interview memoranda, recordings or any other unpublished work products to anyone outside of Reuters unless legally obligated to do so. This includes responding to request for you to disclose your recollection of events and persons encountered in the course of your reporting.

If you receive a request for information or materials by law enforcement, a government official or any other individual, do not respond. Promptly notify legal counsel for Reuters.

Objections to content

If a lawyer demands a correction or otherwise objects to content published by Reuters, or a story is so seriously flawed that we need to publish a withdrawal, contact legal counsel for Reuters and the Global Editor for Ethics and Standards.

Social media -- be careful not to waive journalistic privilege or confidentiality of sources

In your social media or online activity, do not share unpublished details about a story before it is published, the steps you took to report a story, sources you talked to, material that editors cut from a story, or other information about the editing process. Otherwise, we may not be able to protect unpublished newsgathering information in the event of litigation or a subpoena.

Be careful about “friending” your sources. Doing so can allow others to identify sources in your stories, even if you have otherwise promised not to disclose a source’s identity.

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