Business journalism ethics, or the lack thereof, in Hong Kong

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Business journalists in Hong Kong understand potential conflicts of interest, yet some still trade in stocks of companies that they cover, according to new research from the London School of Economics.

“The most striking finding is that almost half of the 12 journalists interviewed, five respondents, openly said that they or close relatives actively traded in shares or markets that they wrote about, and several others reported a relaxed attitude to such practices,” writes Damian Tambini, a senior lecturer at the London School.

Tambini’s research was recently published in the Journal of Mass Media Ethics. It notes that such practices in Hong Kong are vastly different from accepted business journalism practices in the United States and England. Tambini interviewed business journalists in New York and London in 2009 and found no one who traded actively.

“A junior reporter (Journalist 4) on a Chinese language daily was quite open about his trading activities, and the fact that he wrote about companies he had an interest in,” writes Tambini. “This reflects an assumption widely held among the interviewees that active trading by journalists in the newsroom was common and accepted.”

Tambini also found that some English language media in Hong Kong require journalists to fill out a disclosure form and file it with management, but that the journalists are not using the form, and their employers are not enforcing the disclosure.

The research believes that his interview data offers a strong indication that the rule that journalists should not write about stocks they own is becoming more accepted in Hong Kong, but those rules have yet to take hold in everyday practice.

Tambini argues that the trading of stocks by business journalists could undermine the “contract” with the general public to act as a watchdog and serve the public interest.

To read his research, go here. A subscription is required.