Ethics? Is that near Sussex?

Ethics? Is that near Sussex?

Summary: Embargoes are tricky things. Embargoes are rules that some journalists live by, or not.

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TOPICS: After Hours
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Embargoes are tricky things. Embargoes are rules that some journalists live by, or not. The choice is up to them.

Officially, embargoes are agreements that a journalist and a subject (company, individual, organisation, etc) enter into in which both sides agree not to publish something before a certain date (or time).

They are voluntary, with both sides choosing to keep to them or not. Both sides must obey them, otherwise the embargo is broken. The latter point escapes a lot of people.

If journalist (a) and company (b) agree to obey an embargo then that is fine. But if publications x, y and z all disobey the embargo then journalist (a) may well decide that as the embargo is well and truly broken he or she is not going to obey it either.

In the real world, things can be even more complicated than that. I have just been given details of a story that is under embargo and I cannot write about until Thursday. I have been informed of this by company (a) telling me about it and complaining about the way its competition has portrayed the news.

The problem is that I knew nothing about the story whatsoever until the company told me about the that it did not like the way the other company had portrayed it.

Now, it is essential for an embargo to be considered binding for the parties to know what they are letting themselves into BEFORE they enter into it.

I had no idea what I was letting myself into before I agreed to anything. I know that because I have not agreed to anything yet.

I am highly tempted ignore this embargo now, since no-one has officially told me of its existence before the fact, why not?

Tempting it is but will have to remain so I think. I would like to think it is my ethics that stop me, but the reality is much simpler. It is not that good a story.

Anyway, ethics are like motor cars. If they are to remain up to scratch they need to get a quick run out every now and then. Well, not really, but now, who has got some dirt on Microsoft?

Topic: After Hours

About

Colin Barker is based in London and is Senior Reporter for ZDNet. He has been writing about the IT business for some 30-plus years. He still enjoys it.

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