IN BRIEF: The Daily Telegraph's Chief Political Correspondent resigned, claiming the paper's management spiked a series of critical articles on HSBC rather than lose out on the extensive advertising revenue from HSBC; HSBC had previously made a clear link (see Greenslade and others below) between a paper's coverage and continued advertising 'support'. The nature of the billionaire Barclay brothers' ownership comes into this, as do questions of the role of the press/media in a democracy. The case gives backing to long-established critiques of some Marxist academics who have analysed the impact both of conglomerate/billionaire ownership and the de facto licensing power of advertising (cf. 60s Times, 50s Observer, 00s Mirror and NoTW cases). [YOU CAN FIND A TASK OUTLINE HERE]
Peter Oborne is the hero of the piece. Who is he? An avowedly right-wing 'chief political commentator' for the Daily Telegraph (although Greenslade, a target himself of Oborne, notes that Oborne doesn't always follow the right-wing playbook: criticising the pro-Israel lobby, praising(!) Ed Miliband, supporting the Human Rights Act...). He resigned in disgust at the paper allegedly blocking negative reportage of HSBC, the subject of recent revelations about its efforts in facilitating tax avoidance.
The Telegraph, lets be clear, angrily deny doing any such thing. (Or do they? 'The paper’s editorial on Friday, an illogical mix of bluster and obfuscation, appeared to accept that the breach had occurred.')
Read more - Grauniad/Greenslade bias?
|BBC's coverage is less extensive but useful|
The BBC is a good alternative, though you'll need to do a search such as 'BBC telegraph oborne' to find articles; they don't make it so convenient to find linked articles.
Does This 'Prove' Curran + Seaton/Chomsky's Point?
Curran and Seaton, as well as Noam Chomsky, have plenty of critics who dismiss their analysis as the frothing of lefty, indeed Marxist thinkers. Both have argued that advertisers exercise a de facto licensing system over newspapers, and wider media, and that advertiser preferences invariably mean that radical, counter-hegemonic (yes, Gramsci) content is marginalised. This is hardly a controversial view within Media Studies, but can hardly be considered as mainstream thinking beyond this academic field. Free market advocates would simply counter that the public gets the media content and outlets it wants through the market mechanism.
Tele deny Oborne's claims; condemn reportage of story; attack News UK [Murdoch press] as worse!!!
As the BBC reported,
The Daily Telegraph has published an editorial saying it "makes no apology" for its coverage of the HSBC tax scandal.Indeed, part of their response has been to condemn the BBC and Guardian for inventing this story, and even managing an attack on Labour/Ed Miliband! [source: PR Week]
In a promise to its readers published last night on its website, the newspaper makes no apology for the way it has handled allegations made against HSBC – allegations that were "so enthusiastically promoted" by certain media outlets.
The statement questions the editorial impartiality of the BBC, The Guardian and The Times over their dismissive response to MPs' expenses claims, which was revealed by The Telegraph in 2009.
The article then launches an attack on the Labour Party, accusing Ed Miliband of jumping on the HSBC allegations and using them as a "weapon against the Conservatives" to further fuel Labour's "deep-seated hostility to business".
|The Tele was bullish in its initial response (PR Week article)|
The Daily Telegraph has published an anonymous story on its front page suggesting that two suicides at a rival newspaper could be connected to pressure to hit commercial targets, days after its chief political columnist quit alleging that editorial decisions on the Telegraph were being influenced by commercial decisions.The article, which appeared on the bottom of the front page of the paper with the byline “Daily Telegraph Reporter”, said News UK, which publishes papers including the Times and the Sun, had launched an internal investigation into the deaths.The article claims there are “fears that staff are being put under unreasonable pressure to hit targets” in its commercial department. In an article on Friday night, Buzzfeed UK reported a source at the Telegraph saying: “I don’t think any journalist at the Telegraph agrees with what’s going on at the moment.”On Saturday, it published an update based on further contacts with Telegraph staff, who it said were “disgusted and bewildered” by the story’s publication. It added:(Dominic Smith, Guardian, 21.2.15)
Three individuals with knowledge of the newsroom claimed the reporter who wrote the anonymous piece did not bring in the story themselves but was given it to write by their superiors at the newspaper. One source in the newsroom saw the reporter arguing with the news desk over the story, while a second described a newsroom culture where journalists could not veto stories they did not want to write.
Wider than HSBC coverage: Despicable Me 2, China, Russia...
Newsnight (BBC2's flagship news show) editor wrote a feature for the BBC on this issue summing up their findings:
Somewhat bizarrely (but thus memorably!) Despicable Me 2 has been drawn into the row, with the original 2-star rating upgraded to 3-star after the distributors bought extensive advertising for the film.Daily Telegraph journalists have said they felt discouraged from writing uncomfortable stories about a range of advertisers and commercial partners.These included the governments of Russia and China, a film distributor and RBS, BBC Newsnight has learned.
So ... is this corrupt practice endemic to our press? The role of circulation decline
Lets be careful about assuming or accepting that this practice is limited to the Tele alone - all papers are suffering the double-barrelled impact of circulation decline, as older readers die off without many newer readers taking their place and advertising revenue (along with readership) migrating online; many of the previous mainstays of press ad revenue have been largely lost to online rivals, while their websites generate a lot less per reader than the print editions.
We've just seen the Mirror hold its hand up and acknowledge it has been guilty of phone hacking, a practice popularly associated with the Murdoch tabloids, so lets not assume it is just the Tele indulging in this.
As ever, Greenslade has interesting comments on this. He is scathing on the Tele's editorial:
“We are drawing up guidelines that will define clearly and openly how our editorial and commercial staff will co-operate in an increasingly competitive media industry.” Rival publishers could have been forgiven for laughing out loud. No national newspaper owner has previously thought it necessary to codify one of the key planks that maintains a newspaper’s credibility. Despite threats from advertisers, editors revel in the opportunity to show they cannot be bought.He notes examples of editors standing up to valuable advertisers:
When Distillers pulled its advertising from the Sunday Times during its 1960s campaign on behalf of thalidomide victims, the editor, Harold Evans, was supported by his advertising chief. Years later, when the Sunday Times had passed into Rupert Murdoch’s hands, Mohamed al-Fayed threatened to remove £3m of Harrods advertising from the paper because he didn’t like an article about his renovation of a house in Paris. Its then editor, Andrew Neil, turned the tables on him by telling him he was banning him from advertising, a move enthusiastically endorsed by Murdoch.He gives another example from 1984 of a freelance scoop on BT, which was undergoing privatisation and spending a fortune on associated advertising, being at first taken up then spiked by both the Mail and then the Express.
60s Times; Chomsky's filter; ad boycott campaign kills NoTW
So, having looked at how the narrative of press freedom through deregulation and government withdrawing from the press industry can be re-written as a cynical exercise in ensuring the "right people" were in control of the press (a phrase commonly used in contemporary Parliamentary debate over repealing stamp duty on newspapers); the 1960s case of The Times being compelled by unimpressed advertisers to ditch its new working-class (or C2DE) readership; Chomsky's contention that (dependency on) advertising operates as one of the five filters of the 'propaganda model'; and the extraordinary reaction of one of the world's most powerful media groups when advertisers, threatened by a series of Twittersphere boycott campaigns, began to pledge to withdraw all advertising from the NoTW ... now we have an even clearer, even more recent example to utilise. Ian Jack (below) adds a further historical example he claims shows the long-term and continuing impact of advertising preference: the decline of the Observer, once the dominant Sunday quality paper.
Suddenly, the press wakes up to its own elitist, hegemonic nature?!
This seems to have sparked critical comments the likes of which are rarely witnessed in our press about our press, such as Owen Jones' opening paragraph:
By and large, Britain does not have a free press. Our media is not run by the government, and nor does it engage in widespread censorship. Instead, the media is run by a tiny group of politically motivated moguls, themselves in league with other private interests through advertising or personal networks. Journalists from non-privileged backgrounds are filtered out through unpaid internships and expensive post-graduate qualifications, ensuring the media is a closed shop for the well-to-do. According to a report published by the Social Mobility and Child Poverty Commission last August, over half of the top 100 media professionals are privately educated. News coverage all too often reflects the priorities, concerns and prejudices of this tiny sliver of the British population. Rather than being a means to hold the powerful to account and fairly report issues, the media is the ultimate political lobbyist for our elite.('Peter Oborne's resignation shows that the media shouldn't just serve the rich', 20.2.15, Guardian)
Ian Jack: Observer slumped after advertisers rejected its 1950s radicalism
Ian Jack provides an interesting perspective, attacking his own profession for the haughty disdain with which they've (and he includes examples of his own behaviour) held the advertising section that financially underpins the editorial enterprise. He gives as an example of how the Observer suffered by alienating advertisers: being seen as too radical in the 1950s (Jack argues) led to the Sunday Times overtaking it in circulation and advertising. The Observer had strongly condemned the 1956 British invasion of the Suez (cheered on by Israel), leading to condemnation in parliament and other media. You may see a strong parallel here with Piers Morgan's editorship of the Mirror, brought to an end over his strongly anti-Iraq War line.
“Patriotic” British companies wanted nothing to do with such an apparently treasonous paper; English Electric was still refusing to advertise in it 10 years later. Also, as Astor later wrote, “the loss of Jewish advertisers was very marked”. The paper had always been supportive of Israel, and according to Astor, had a higher proportion of Jewish readers than most newspapers; now the Observer’s implicit criticism of Israel for its part in the operation “caused the strongest possible agitation among Israel’s supporters”....In commercial terms, morality didn’t serve the Observer well. Its anti-apartheid stance sent South African advertisers elsewhere, and only in 1958 did it lift a ban on alcohol (with a decorous advert for dry sherry) after research showed that strong drink provided the Sunday Times with an extra 29 columns of advertising, enough to give it a four-page advantage over its rival. Today the Sunday Times outsells the Observer four-to-one. You can argue the merits of their journalism – which has the livelier, the better written, the less vulgar, the more politically appealing – but the roots of their relative success and failure lie in decisions made by newspaper advertisers 60 years ago. The reach is very long.('Reporters hold their noses about advertising in newspapers. But history shows the risk that purists take', Guardian, 20.2.15)
Simon Jenkins often seems to be a right-winger placed in the Guardian to provoke that all-important reader/user interaction, and I note below a counter to his arguments in his column on the Tele. He makes a variety of useful, insightful points here:
HSBC had stopped advertising in the Telegraph in 2012 over a similar story to the Guardian’s, about tax evasion in Jersey, and the management was frantic to see revenues restored. In other words, HSBC was not just illegal and unethical but also a bully. The Guardian also recently had its HSBC ads “paused”, but declined to yield. That HSBC was chaired by an Anglican priest who took the government shilling as an ennobled minister merely illustrates the many-splendoured architecture of the British establishment.An American newspaper is said to have carried the ironic motto “As independent as resources permit”. Any student of the press knows what this means. A business page protocol ordains gentle treatment of proprietorial interests. Fashion pages would not exist without kickbacks, or travel pages without “contra” deals on hospitality and mentions. I remember perfume firms threatening to withdraw ads after stories on animal cruelty.So, there is a certain degree of shamelessness in other papers clamouring to attack the Tele, a fair point.
He notes a famous, notorious even, example of the Murdoch press being muzzled to aid his wider empire's ambitions - he doesn't mention how Harper Collins pulped the hardback copies of Hong Kong Governor Chris Patten's memoirs, for which he'd been paid a 7-figure advance; or how the BBC was kicked off Star, News Corp's Asian TV network, both seen as being to protect Murdoch's prospects of doing business in China. He does tackle this though - and get in a dig at his own sainted paper too:
Rupert Murdoch was robust in backing investigative reporting at Times Newspapers, especially on the Sunday Times. He did so to a fault in the case of the phone-hacking News of the World. But his Times undoubtedly restrained its China coverage when he was struggling for a media deal with Beijing.Even the Guardian cannot be regarded as immune from such pressures. In March 2007 Labour’s short-lived Pathfinder scheme, involving dire housing demolitions in the north, was inexplicably eulogised in a Guardian supplement in return for an undisclosed payment from the government. Today its “branded content partner zone” is occupied by Unilever, “whose sources of revenue allow us to explore, in more depth than editorial budgets would otherwise allow, topics that we hope are of interest”. Hence this week’s frothy promotion, under the Guardian masthead, of a “green sex sustainable” condom – though it’s also fair to point out that the Guardian columnist George Monbiot launched a withering attack on the partnership in these pages.If you read papers you advertorial
Prof. Brian Cathcart rubbishes Jenkins... Prof. Horder cites Bribery Act
Cathcart has written some key books on the press; he wasn't impressed with Simon Jenkins' arguments, and wrote a letter to the Guardian to say so...
Newspapers are a medium of information and if the information is false the reader is duped. Jenkins suggests that plurality protects us, yet with a few exceptions our national press operates as a cartel, papers covering up each others’ faults. The result is that uncorrected lies pile up in our public space, polluting debate and warping policymaking.On the same letters page, a (law) Prof. Holder argues that the Tele's actions, if true, might constitute a crime under the 2010 Bribery Act, a useful reminder + example: wider law fills in a lot of the gaps for the seemingly deregulated press.
Two other points. As Oborne reminds us, newspapers have “a democratic duty to tell readers the truth”, and, as Leveson reminds us, they have an obligation not to “wreak havoc in the lives of innocent people”. These are responsibilities. Sadly, the corporate press refuses to take responsibility for anything.
Professor Brian CathcartKingston University London