The independent committee charged with monitoring editorial integrity at The Wall Street Journal said Saturday it is not aware of any wrongdoing at the Journal or its parent company, Dow Jones & Co.
Dow Jones is owned by News Corp., which is mired in a phone-hacking scandal involving its British newspapers.
The committee that monitors the Journal's editorial practices also said in a statement that it did not believe Les Hinton's resignation as publisher of the Journal and chief executive of Dow Jones was related to activities at the Journal or Dow Jones.
Hinton resigned Friday. He had been chairman of News Corp.'s British newspaper arm for some of the years its staffers are alleged to have unlawfully accessed the voicemail messages of politicians, sports figures, and celebrities in search of news scoops.
Thomas Bray, chairman of the committee, said the group did not conduct an independent investigation to come to its conclusion.
"All we can testify to is what has or has not come to our attention," Bray said when reached Saturday. "That's our function. We're not a police force."
Even so, Bray said the committee knows a number of staff members at the Journal well enough that if there were a systemic problem like phone-hacking or other illegal activities at the paper, he is "pretty sure we would have known about it."
"Obviously, (there are) no flat guarantees about this sort of thing," Bray said.
The Dow Jones Special Committee was formed in 2007 as a condition of News Corp.'s $5.7 billion purchase of Dow Jones. The acquisition was seen as "the cherry on top of the cake in terms of respectability," for News Corp.'s chief executive Rupert Murdoch, says newspaper analyst Ken Doctor.
Murdoch agreed to set up the committee to ease concerns that the paper's quality and independence would suffer under his control. Each of the group's five members is paid $100,000 a year to monitor the editorial independence of the Journal and Dow Jones.
"Those of us who watch the press didn't really expect (the special committee) to have any teeth," said Doctor. "It doesn't surprise me that it hasn't done an investigation."
Kelly McBride, senior faculty for ethics at the nonprofit journalism think tank Poynter Institute, said that the committee is most like a traditional standards committee that larger newspapers have. She said such groups rarely have an investigative function.
Regardless, McBride said that the Journal's coverage of the scandal is telling. "You can judge a newsroom by its work and in this case, the coverage has been lacking," McBride said. "This is the kind of story the Journal would be all over."
The resignation of Hinton and Rebekah Brooks, who ran the British newspaper arm, suggests that Murdoch doesn't want the Journal, still one of the world's most respected newspapers, to get tarred in a scandal involving the tawdry behavior of journalists at a British tabloid, Doctor said. The Journal, he said, is one of the top global brands in business news, along with the Financial Times and Reuters.
Protecting the Journal's reputation has become more important to Murdoch now that the scandal has diminished his political influence in Britain, Doctor said. Since the Journal had top executives from News Corp.'s British operations, Doctor said it's important for the newspaper to get ahead of the story and conduct an independent investigation "to be absolutely clear with its reading public that it in no way used any of the techniques that News of the World" is accused of.
There have been no allegations that the paper has been involved in phone-hacking or other illegal activity and Doctor and other media-watchers don't expect any such revelations.
For its part, Bray said the special committee will continue to monitor the situation, through its regular quarterly meetings and other interim meetings with staff and management.
In addition to Bray, a former editorial page editor of Detroit News, other committee members are Louis Boccardi, former chief executive of The Associated Press; Jack Fuller, retired president of Tribune Publishing Co.; Nicholas Negroponte, co-founder of the Media Lab at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology; and Susan M. Phillips, former dean of the George Washington University School of Business.
_ Associated Press writer Michael Liedtke in San Francisco and Associated Press editor Jennifer Merritt in New York contributed to this report.