End this MADness

Four broadsheet editors and their counterpart at Reuters do not co-ordinate their diaries for a Tuesday morning meeting unless there’s something serious in the air. So this week’s gathering at The Financial Reporting Conference, which brought Messrs Rusbridger, Kelner, Gowers, Thomson and Linnebank to the same platform, was a clear indication of the levels of concern over Europe’s proposed curbs on financial reporting.

The Market Abuse Directive – and no, the MAD acronym hasn’t escaped anyone’s attention – may be the greatest threat that business journalists have faced in more than a decade. Under the directive, any of them could be punished for publishing a story about a listed company that later turns out to be incorrect. Regardless of the fact that they may have written the piece in perfectly good faith. Another triumph for corporate secrecy.

Which brings us to the Interbrew case which binds together those five editors. The Belgian corporate giant wants them to disclose their source of a story they printed which, it claims, was based on a forged document. Their fight to protect those sources continues and must be supported.

Should they lose, and should the MAD madness continue, journalists will be prevented from publishing the sort of stories on which the City is fuelled – and on which their readers rely to make decisions.

The regulators’ intent is to prevent unscrupulous manipulation of share prices. The reality of their plans will be little short of censorship.

Age-old prejudice

Age shall not weary them, yet many of the UK’s freelance army feel that their years do indeed condemn. The large – and growing – number of self-employed reporters, feature writers, subs and producers of a certain age are convinced that by disclosing the fact that they are older than, say, 45, they will be cast out into the freelance wilderness.

The Open University research that we report in this issue backs up those fears. Once they get to 55 they are most likely to be in the lowest earning category. Dr Kerry Platman’s findings that media organisations systematically discriminate against older workers should give pause for thought.

New employment law will help focus a few minds, but common business sense should be even more of an incentive for change. When our readers’ and viewers’ average age is increasing all the time, can we afford to shun the wealth of experience of the freelances who understand them best?

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