When the guardian blurs the lines

PUBLISHED : Monday, 15 August, 2011, 12:00am
UPDATED : Monday, 15 August, 2011, 12:00am


For a club made up mostly of members who pride themselves on being guardians of the public interest, the latest row over fast-tracked memberships is disappointing.

The Foreign Correspondents' Club has long had an exclusive membership. Members of the media corps can join quickly, but there is a long waiting list for those outside the profession applying for associate membership.

It was assumed by many that a fair and transparent system existed to ensure no one jumped the waiting list queue. That was not the case. As remarkable as it appears, this decades-old elite club had no such system or guidelines - at least until now, following an investigation by its president, Anna Healy Fenton, a former Post journalist.

She found some of the 170 people on the waiting list had been there for up to 18 months, while other associate membership applications were passed after less than two weeks. The shortest time from application to membership in the past six months was eight days.

An unnamed membership committee member claimed that such blatant queue-jumping was not favouritism and that no deception was involved. Why? Because he said there had been no guidelines and so no rules could have been violated.

One wonders how that committee member might have filed his or her report to a newspaper if a government bureaucrat made a similar remark about, say, queue-jumping civil service applicants.

The FCC leadership has taken action and a new waiting-list system is in place, Healy Fenton says.

We sincerely hope so, and that it is fair and transparent. As we in journalism make a living exposing the shenanigans of others, let's make sure we don't fall short ourselves.