The Financial Times has suspended journalist Mark Di Stefano after it was reported that he had accessed Zoom conference calls held by competing publications.
The two Zoom calls that Di Stefano is said to have accessed were by both the Evening Standard and the Independent, on which sensitive details about cuts and furloughs were discussed.
The former BuzzFeed reporter, who joined the Financial Times earlier this year, is reported to have almost simultaneously tweeted details of of the Zoom conference calls as they were discussed.
The Independent has claimed that Di Stefano’s Financial Times email address was briefly visible to staff in their Zoom conference before disappearing. They then reported that an anonymous user joined, using a mobile number that was subsequently thought to be associated with Di Stefano.
A spokesperson for the Evening Standard told the Guardian newspaper; “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.”
The FT’s code of conduct – it’s guidelines for journalists and staff – clearly states that it “…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.”
Whilst there have been comparisons with Di Stefano’s actions with the phone hacking scandal, this is actually entirely different. The address of the Zoom call must have been leaked to Di Stefano in advance of it taking place, in order for him to be able to access it.
What is far more likely is that there is a leak within both the Financial Times and the Independent or the Evening Standard, providing Di Stefano with access to the conference calls.
Whilst it may be seen as a breach of journalistic ethics, on the face of it, Mark Di Stefano doesn’t appear to have breached the FT’s code of conduct in respect of intercepting communications. By having possession of, and using a link to a video conference is not in any way the same has phone hacking.
Should he have done it? Probably not. Should he lose his job over it? Definitely not.