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Harry Cassin
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Five principles of ethical journalism that work for compliance officers too

Both journalists and compliance professionals are gatekeepers. They have a similar duty to find and report the truth for the public welfare. So, thinking I could learn something, I searched for a code of ethics for journalists and found several.

My favorite comes from the Ethical Journalism Network. The EJN — an umbrella organization for groups of journalists — calls it “Our five core principles of ethical journalism.”

As you’d expect from journalists, it’s well written — short and clear. Each core principle is followed by a brief explanation. I’ve replaced those explanations with a few thoughts about compliance work.

Truth and Accuracy: Accurate books and records are a cornerstone of compliance. And the point of FCPA-related investigations is to find and report the truth. You can’t fix a problem until you know what it is. There’s no room in compliance for sloppy, incomplete, or otherwise misleading reportage.

Independence: The DOJ and SEC also call it “autonomy.” Their FCPA Resource Guide says, “Adequate autonomy generally includes direct access to an organization’s governing authority, such as the board of directors and committees of the board of directors (e.g., the audit committee).”

The U.S. Sentencing Guidelines require those responsible for compliance to have “direct access to the governing authority or an appropriate subgroup of the governing authority.”

The DOJ’s Evaluation of Corporate Compliance Programs amplifies the concept of independence, linking it to both accuracy and effectiveness:

Prosecutors should evaluate whether “internal audit functions [are] conducted at a level sufficient to ensure their independence and accuracy,” as an indicator of whether compliance personnel are in fact empowered and positioned to “effectively detect and prevent misconduct.”

Fairness and Impartiality: Compliance officers shouldn’t have an agenda that conflicts with their gatekeeper mission. Nor should they play a rigged game. That means never allowing their employers (or anyone else) to hamstring their efforts. In a discussion about fairness, the SCCE’s Code of Ethics for Compliance and Ethics Professionals says compliance professionals “shall not agree to unreasonable limits that would interfere with their professional ethical and legal responsibilities.”

Humanity: The human wreckage from FCPA cases, even from mere allegations, can be enormous. Careers ruined, families harmed, and countless stakeholders damaged. Compliance professionals should never forget to use their power and influence responsibly.

Accountability: For journalists, the gist of this core principle is self-correction. “When we commit errors we must correct them and our expressions of regret must be sincere not cynical,” the EJN says. Since we all make mistakes — even compliance professionals — another word here could be “Humility.” Gatekeepers must be able to admit and correct their mistakes. That’s what protects everyone else from the gatekeeper’s accidental or intentional misuse of power and influence.


There they are. Five ethical principles for journalists — Truth and Accuracy, Independence, Fairness and Impartiality, Humanity, and Accountability — that compliance professionals can live by.

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