Language… The Chatham House Rule
The rule is one which may be adopted in respect of the conduct of discussion on controversial issues. It takes its name from the headquarters of the United Kingdom’s Royal Institute of International Affairs, based in Chatham House, London. The rule originated in June 1927.
The following appears on the website of the Australian Broadcasting Commission concerning such rule:
The Chatham House Rule reads as follows:
When a meeting, or part thereof, is held under the Chatham House Rule, participants are free to use the information received, but neither the identity nor the affiliation of the speaker(s), nor that of any other participant, may be revealed. The … Rule may be invoked at meetings to encourage openness and the sharing of information.
Explanation of the Rule:
The … Rule originated at Chatham House with the aim of providing anonymity to speakers and to encourage openness and the sharing of information. It is now used throughout the world as an aid to free discussion. Meetings do not have to take place at Chatham House, or be organised by Chatham House, to be held under the Rule. Meetings, events and discussions held at Chatham House are normally conducted ‘on the record’ with the Rule occasionally invoked at the speaker’s request. In cases where the Rule is not considered sufficiently strict, an event may be held ‘off the record’.
Frequently Asked Questions:
Q. When was the Rule devised? A. In 1927 and refined in 1992 and 2002.
Q. Should one refer to the “Chatham House Rule” or the “Chatham House Rules”? A. There is only one Rule.
Q. What are the benefits of using the Rule? A. It allows people to speak as individuals, and to express views that may not be those of their organisations, and therefore it encourages free discussion. People usually feel more relaxed if they don’t have to worry about their reputation or the implications if they are publicly quoted.
Q. How is the Rule enforced? A. Chatham House can take disciplinary action against one of its members who breaks the Rule. Not all organisations that use the Rule have sanctions. The Rule then depends for its success on being seen as morally binding.
Q. Is the Rule used for all meetings at Chatham House? A. Not often for Members Events; more frequently for smaller research meetings, for example where work in progress is discussed or when subject matter is politically sensitive. Most Chatham House conferences are under the Rule.
Q. Who uses the Rule these days? A. It is widely used by local government and commercial organisations as well as research organisations.
Q. Can participants in a meeting be named as long as what is said is not attributed? A. It is important to think about the spirit of the Rule. For example, sometimes speakers need to be named when publicising the meeting. The Rule is more about the dissemination of the information after the event – nothing should be done to identify, either explicitly or implicitly, who said what.
Q. Can you say within a report what you yourself said at a meeting under the Chatham House Rule? A. Yes, if you wish to do so.
Q. Can a list of attendees at the meeting be published? A. No – the list of attendees should not be circulated beyond those participating in the meeting.
Q. Can I ‘tweet’ while at an event under the Chatham House Rule? A. The Rule can be used effectively on social media sites such as Twitter as long as the person tweeting or messaging reports only what was said at an event and does not identify – directly or indirectly – the speaker or another participant. This consideration should always guide the way in which event information is disseminated – online as well as offline.”