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Information published on financial Websites about companies that trade on the Tel Aviv Stock Exchange could become more trustworthy if one of Israel's leading philosophers has his way.
On Monday, a committee led by professor Asa Kasher presented recommendations to the Israel Securities Authority outlining a code of ethics for these Websites, especially those that have talk-back features, forums or any other facilities that allow the publication of information that can affect share prices. The sites include Globes, The Marker and Bizportal.
The committee was appointed two years ago by ISA chairman Moshe Tery, who said the ethical code is designed to reduce the distribution of misleading and outdated information, to support self-regulation, and to discourage Web surfers from publishing information in an attempt to influence other users.
Until now the scale of the issue has been unclear but there were fears it could develop.
"There is an argument about how big the problem has been in the past but there is agreement about future dangers, because people can manipulate talkback and other outlets to influence share prices," Kasher said in an interview.
The committee proposed that the sites publish an ethical profile of themselves on their home pages, or have a link to such a profile, and behave in accordance with it. Each news outlet should rate itself from one to five on ethical points relating to the distribution of information, such as transparency, employee identification and its mechanism for deleting suspected false information that originates from outside the site. It also should state the connection between its owners and the information published, and the company's policy on those who contribute to the Website. In addition, the site should make sure that information published on its behalf is kept separate from information that isn't. The list of ethical points should be signed by one of the Website's employees.
Kasher, who co-wrote the code of ethics for the Israel Defense Forces, stressed that the code for financial Websites should be voluntary, but he also called for the publication of a list of sites that don't have the proposed ethical profile as well as for the creation of a non-governmental oversight body that would grade Websites according to how ethical they are. The body would note improvements that sites make and publish its results every six months.
The ISA's Tery said that until now, the regulator has been dealing with the problem via criminal investigations. However, he and Kasher feel this is not enough.
"If you want somebody to behave properly, you have to persuade them to do it," Kasher said.
"There are 2,500 years of ethics. People are more prepared to adhere to things they believe in rather than things they are required to do by law," he added, although he didn't rule out the Knesset one day having to enforce the code.
"It's an experiment, and if it's successful all well and good, and if not, we'll try to do something else ... The law will be the last resort," he said.
However, he is confident that financial Websites will carry out the proposals, especially as two of the biggest - Globes and The Marker - were represented on the committee.
With the ISA's approval of the measures, Kasher may now approach the Websites with his recommendations.