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Tuesday 28 April 2020

FT Suspends - Fawkes Spins

Of all the papers one might expect to become involved in improper information gathering techniques, the FT would not normally come at the top of anyone’s list. But the title now has a little local difficulty of its own, not helped by the only sympathetic account of that difficulty coming from a less than totally helpful source.
Mark Di Stefano ...

The back story is straightforward, as the Guardian has reported. “A Financial Times reporter has been suspended after the Independent accused him of listening in on sensitive Zoom meetings held by its senior managers telling staff about salary cuts and furloughs … Mark Di Stefano, who joined the FT from BuzzFeed in January, has been accused of listening to the audio feed of video conference calls held by the Independent and its sister title the Evening Standard”. The two titles’ spokespeople weren’t happy.

The Independent editor, Christian Broughton, said: ‘We respect freedom of speech and understand the challenges of news gathering, but the Independent considers the presence of a third-party journalist in a staff briefing to be entirely inappropriate and an unwarranted intrusion into our employees’ privacy’ … A spokesperson for the Standard said: ‘For a journalist from the FT to have illegitimately accessed a private Zoom call is unacceptable. We are sure the FT will want to offer an immediate explanation and an apology’”.

As the Guardian points out, “The FT’s code of conduct states: ‘The press must not seek to obtain or publish material acquired by … intercepting private or mobile telephone calls, messages or emails. Engaging in misrepresentation or subterfuge … can generally be justified only in the public interest and then only when the material cannot be obtained by other means.’” But one media outlet was sympathetic to Di Stefano.
... and his mentor

Unfortunately for him and the FT, that source was the perpetually thirsty Paul Staines and his rabble at the Guido Fawkes blog. “The Financial Times has suspended recently hired Mark Di Stefano as media and technology correspondent. The tenacious reporter joined from Buzzfeed where he covered media and politics”. Tenacious, eh?

Then comes the spin. “Zoom is accessible to anyone who has an invitation … Arguably this is more a case of gatecrashing than hacking”. Why should The Great Guido be so lenient on the FT, one of those titles it loves to hate? Ah well. While he was at BuzzFeed, Di Stefano was pals with former Fawkes teaboy Alex “Billy Liar” Wickham, and carried on a Fawkes obsession - attacking the Observer’s Carole Cadwalladr.

The BuzzFeed attacks on Ms Cadwalladr included Di Stafano trying, but failing, to carry out a mass delete of his Tweets without anyone noticing. After Peter Jukes of Byline Media noticed, rather a lot of other people noticed, too. Wickham was infamous for his dubious information gathering techniques when at the Fawkes blog; he certainly influenced Di Stefano over the pursuit of Ms Cadwalladr. Maybe there were other influences, too.

Meanwhile, Di Stefano has been, and remains, suspended from his post at the FT. One has to ask how he can hope for a way back, given the nature of the offence and the commitment by his employer to rather higher standards than BuzzFeed. Or Fawkes.

The time of Mark Di Stefano at the FT was for a time, but not for all time.
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Richard Bartholomew said...

An interesting contrast with Daily Mail hatchet man Guy Adams, who believes that the Financial Times is escaping criticism because it supported Remain https://twitter.com/guyadams/status/1255063397022019584

Anonymous said...

Surely it is time - lawyer jargon notwithstanding - to make unrequested interference with electronic communications a criminal offence?