Last Updated on May 4, 2020
Mark Di Stefano resigned from the Financial Times after hacking into the Zoom calls of rival outlets. Despite this, other journalists wished him well on his “break.”
Di Stefano, an Australian journalist moved to the Financial Times from Buzzfeed UK in January, but it wasn’t long before he was caught hacking into the Zoom calls of rival newspapers The Independent and its sister title, the Evening Standard.
Di Stefano was caught tweeting about the meetings he infiltrated at the outlets about salary cuts and coronavirus furloughs at the same time that staff were informed. Logs provided by The Independent show an account linked to Di Stefano’s email address at the Financial Times accessed one meeting last month for 16 seconds. The video was disabled, but attendees on the call claim they saw his name flash up on screen.
Only minutes later, a second, anonymous account joined the call, with video disabled, and sat in on the call. Investigations revealed this account was linked to Di Stefano’s mobile phone. A subsequent story and summation of the cuts was published on the Financial Times’s website, with the referred source being “people on the call.”
The Independent made a complaint to The Financial Times, further alleging that the same anonymous account of the journalist accessed a Zoom call with George Osborne, the editor of the Evening Standard and former Chancellor of the Exchequer.
“We respect freedom of speech and understand the challenges of news gathering, but the Independent considers the presence of a third-party journalist in a staff briefing to be entirely inappropriate and an unwarranted intrusion into our employees’ privacy,” said Christian Broughton, the editor of The Independent. “Our spokesperson had a full statement prepared for the press. Any interested reporters only needed to call and ask.”
It seemed quite clear that Di Stefano had broken the Financial Times’s code of conduct, which clearly states that “the press must not seek to obtain or publish material acquired by … intercepting private or mobile telephone calls, messages or emails,” and that “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.”
Di Stefano subsequently resigned before he was fired, saying he was “going to take some time away”:
Hi, letting everyone know today was my last day at the FT. This afternoon I offered my resignation. Thank you everyone who has given support. I’m now going to take some time away and log off x
— Mark Di Stefano (@MarkDiStef) May 1, 2020
The Financial Times apologised to the Evening Standard and The Independent in a statement following his resignation:
Last week, the FT received a complaint from the Independent that a reporter had joined a staff conference call without authorisation. Access details had been shared with him. The journalist in question has now resigned from the company. The FT wishes to apologise to the Independent and the Evening Standard, which subsequently informed the FT that the same reporter had accessed a meeting it had held.
Not only did Di Stefano break the code of conduct, but his “Zoombombing” may also have broken the law, violating potentially the Computer Misuse Act 1990 and the Data Protection Act 2018, even if he did not need to enter with a password or be approved by an admin of the call. Anyone found guilty of breaching this legislation could face a potential imprisonment of 12 months and a fine.
“If the meetings were notionally open then he could argue that he was entitled to be there,” argued Professor Peter Sommer of Birmingham City University, an expert witness in computer hacking. “On the other hand it could also be argued that he was fully aware that he was not welcome and as a result is committing an offence.”
Despite the entire British press knowing that Di Stefano had potentially broken the law, this didn’t stop many of them from praising him and wishing him well on his next endeavours:
- Alex Wickham, Political Editor at Buzzfeed UK
Glad there is so much support already for Mark, who is a superb reporter and one of the best, most decent people I know. This is an absolutely ridiculous and appalling outcome. A good and experienced editor stands by their reporter. https://t.co/wfxeLnyr6G
— Alex Wickham (@alexwickham) May 1, 2020
- Emily Maitlis, the presenter of the BBC’s flagship “Newsnight” politics programme
Sad to see this mark. Hoping you’re ok x
— emily m (@maitlis) May 1, 2020
- Kate Silver, a journalist for BBC World
Thoughts are with you Mark! Xx
— Katie_Silver (@Katie_Silver) May 2, 2020
- Hannah Al-Othman, a political correspondent for Buzzfeed UK
So sorry Mark, but you’ll be back 💕
— Hannah Al-Othman (@HannahAlOthman) May 1, 2020
- Sunny Hundal from Open Democracy
Yikes! Sorry to hear this
— Sunny Hundal (@sunny_hundal) May 1, 2020
- Richard Palmer, the Royal Correspondent for the Daily Express
I’m sure you will bounce back, Mark. Enjoy your break.
— Richard Palmer (@RoyalReporter) May 1, 2020
- Owen Jones, columnist for The Guardian and supporter of antifa
Best of luck, Mark.
— Owen Jones (@OwenJones84) May 1, 2020
- Ben McOwen Wilson, Managing Director for YouTube UK
Best of luck, Mark. I look forward to the next chapter.
— Ben McOwen Wilson (@ben_mw) May 1, 2020
It’s no surprise that even the most trusted journalists in the UK, the BBC, are only considered trustworthy by 47% of the public, with only 38% trusting “upmarket” newspaper journalists, dropping down to 7% of trust in tabloids. Perhaps if journalists stopped entering Zoom calls without permission and other underhanded tricks, they’d experience better public relations.