The European Federation of Journalists today welcomed a last-minute effort by law-makers to give added protection to financial journalists who complain that new rules to expose and eliminate insider trading on world financial markets may limit press freedom.
Attempts to amend the draft Market Abuse Directive to give an explicit exemption for journalists in the Committee stage of its progress through the European Parliament on Tuesday were rejected. However, MEPs did agree to an oral amendment from Robert Goebbels, the Parliament Rapporteur, which says technical arrangements for the implementation of the directive shall take account of "the rules, including self-regulation, governing the profession of journalists."
"This is a step forward," said Aidan White, General Secretary of the EFJ, "some may say it does not go far enough, but it makes clear that the law should focus on finding the big-time crooks and fraudulent market speculators and should not encroach upon journalism, where self-regulation is the best way to deal with unacceptable conflicts of interest."
Immediately after the vote on the draft directive, which will go for endorsement to a plenary session of the European Parliament in Strasbourg later this month, the EFJ brought together journalists and legislators to a meeting - Journalism in the Stocks? - to discuss the potential threat to press freedom of the new directive.
Robert Goebbels told the audience that this latest amendment added to safeguards already inserted into the text after intensive lobbying by media professionals and industry groups. He said journalists had nothing to fear if there was full disclosure of any personal financial interests in the markets they cover.
However, Marc van Cauteren, editor of Belgium's major financial daily, the Financieel-Economische Tijd, said proposals for secondary legislation arising, currently under discussion by the Committee of European Securities Regulator, contained threatening elements for financial journalism and might undo the good intentions of the Parliament to protect self-regulation. He said that internal controls in his own paper worked well, and had led to the instant dismissal of reporters who broke the rules.
"The challenge to media and journalists is to make self-regulation work," said Aidan White, "and to put in place rules, like those at the Financieel-Economische Tijd that show we are able to deal with problems ourselves without needing legal intervention."
He said that journalists and media should remain vigilant as the Directive and follow up proposals from the securities regulator make their way to the statute books in the coming year. "We must ensure that respect for the principles of self-regulation is maintained every step of the way," he said.