It's Not Only the Guardian's Relationship With Advertisers Which Compromise the Paper's Editorial Freedom.

Mick Hall on how he sees editorial freedom compromised at the Guardian. A veteran Marxist activist and trade unionist Mick Hall blogs at Organized Rage.

Deutsch: logo der tageszeitung the guardian

Its not only the Guardian's relationship with it's advertisers which compromise editorial freedom, its cosy relationship with the political and media neoliberal elites may also impacts detrimentally on what goes into the paper. 

A good example of this took place last week when the paper published a lead article on the front page entitled 'BBC Trust chair calls for external oversight of corporation.' Which pointed out Rona Fairhead, head of the BBC Trust was calling for external oversight of the corporation. All well and good some might say, and not before time. Never mind any new oversight committee would be made up of the same type of neoliberal insiders who currently sit on the BBC Trust, the Banksters, Hedge funders, and media insiders, the Rona Fairhead's of this world.  

What the tax paying public would get for its money would simply be more of the same. The main reason why people like Fairhead are appointed to such boards is because their speciality is to cover up unpalatable truths and maintain the status quo.  Same old, same old, all that would change is the logo. Fairhead is a typical example of this unprincipled type, having been chair of HSBC's audit/oversight committee before she came to the BBC, when the bank ran a tax dodging racket out of Switzerland. 

This alone should have made her unsuitable to oversee any important institution let alone one as influential as the BBC. The fact she is also paid by HSBC, £513,000 alone last year, should make any fair minded being question her loyalties? If MPs cannot serve two masters why should the fragrant Rona Fairhead be an exception?

Yet the Guardian never effectively challenged any of this, preferring to take Fairhead's statement at face value, which brings to mind a comment made by Alan Bennett when he was asked on Radio 4 what the English excel at. He replied succinctly,  "Hypocrisy," and there are few more hypocritical than the type of neoliberal who gets a foot across the Guardian and BBC's doorstep.

The website Medialens, in an interesting piece points out the Scott Trust which owns and oversees the Guardian is far from immune to the poisonous influence of the neoliberal business and banking elite:
The chair of the Scott Trust Ltd board is Dame Liz Forgan. She has links with St Giles Trust and the British Museum, two institutions that are 'sponsored' by HSBC.
Anthony Salz who sits alongside Forgan on Scott Trust Ltd is a senior investment banker and executive vice chairman of Rothschild, and a director at NM Rothschild and Sons. Salz was previously a corporate lawyer with Freshfields, a member of the 'Magic Circle' of elite British law firms. HSBC is one of Freshfield's most prominent long-term clients.
Philip Tranter is another board member of Scott Trust Ltd. He is a former partner and head of corporate law at Boyes Turner. HSBC is one of their important clients.
As well as past and present relationships with HSBC, there are also wider connections between Scott Trust Ltd board members and elite corporate and financial circles. For example, Jonathan Scott is chairman of Ambac Assurance UK, and a former director at KPMG Corporate Finance. Ambac was 'at the heart of the 2008 subprime mortgage crisis, and was implicated in fraud to save its skin as the crisis kicked off'. 
Andrew Miller, another board member, was chief financial officer of Autotrader publisher, Trader Media Group. Until early last year, TMG was jointly owned by the Guardian Media Group and the giant private equity firm, Apax Partners. One early director of an Apax Fund, David Staples, is now a director of HSBC Private Bank Ltd. When the Guardian Media Group sold its 50.1% stake in TMG, one of the firms that provided advice for the sale was Anthony Salz's former firm, Freshfields. Freshfields also advised HSBC over a government inquiry into competition in the banking sector last year.
And so it goes on.... More on this from medialens here

Below Ian Sinclair regards as bunkum the claim by journalists at the Guardian that its cosy relationship with advertisers doesn’t compromise editorial freedom.

Mick Hall

The Guardian’s Independence Delusion

Guardian’s public profile is shrouded in the journalistic equivalent of US exceptionalism. And nowhere is this delusional belief stronger than among Guardian journalists themselves.

“The Guardian is truly independent,” explains Jonathan Freedland, the executive editor for opinion at the newspaper. “Protected by the Scott Trust … we have no corporate owner telling us what to think. We are free to pursue the facts.” 

Guardian columnist Owen Jones may disagree with Freedland on many issues but on this topic they sing from the same hymn sheet. 

“The paper is unique for being owned by a trust rather than a media mogul … I have never been prevented from writing what I think,” the Labour leftist recently assured readers.

The problem with this self-serving argument is there are obviously more influences on the editorial content of a newspaper than just its ownership structure. For example, Edward Herman and Noam Chomsky’s propaganda model of the media highlights five filters that produce the elite-friendly reporting that dominates the Western press — ownership, advertising, the sources used by journalists, the flak media organisations can receive and the dominant ideology of the period.

Resigning last month as the Telegraph’s chief political commentator, Peter Oborne exposed how the interests of corporate advertisers had influenced the newspaper’s news agenda, limiting embarrassing stories about HSBC. 

Oborne’s principled analysis chimes with the thoughts of the BBC’s Andrew Marr, himself a former editor of the Independent newspaper: “The biggest question is whether advertising limits and reshapes the news agenda. It does, of course. It’s hard to make the sums add up when you are kicking the people who write the cheques.”

For broadsheet newspapers, the sums are pretty telling, with advertising accounting for around 75 per cent of their income.

Challenged by media watchdog Media Lens about the thickness of the “Chinese wall” between advertising and editorial at the Guardian, the paper’s most radical columnist George Monbiot retorted: “If you have an example of the Guardian spiking a story on behalf of its advertisers, please send me a link.”

The Telegraph soon obliged, reporting how the headline of a 2014 Guardian article about Iraq had been altered to fit with the wishes of Apple, who had stipulated their advertising should not be placed next to negative news. “If editorial staff knew what was happening here they would be horrified,” the Telegraph quoted a “Guardian insider” as saying. 

Guardian columnist and former editor of the Times newspaper Simon Jenkins made a similar point in his response to the Oborne furore. Writing about the increasing influence of advertising on the layout and content of newspapers, he noted: “Even the Guardian cannot be regarded as immune from such pressures.”

Despite this evidence, the focus on overt censorship is something of a red herring. The first reason for this is that public arguments between advertisers and newspapers are extremely rare. The secretive relationship between the two has been well polished over decades of publishing. It’s rarely in the interest of either party that the partnership be exposed to the light of public scrutiny. 

The second reason is because the influence of advertising is far broader, subtler and therefore more insidious than the dramatic spiking of a single story.

James Twitchell, author of Adcult USA, explains the extent of the collaboration: 
“You name it. The appearance of ads throughout the pages, the ‘jump’ or continuation of a story from page to page, the rise of sectionalisation (as with news, cartoons, sports, financial, living, real estate), common page size, halftone images, process engraving, the use of black-and-white photography, then colour, sweepstakes, and finally discounted subscriptions, were all forced on publishers by advertisers hoping to find target audiences.”
Just as fish probably don't see the water they swim in, Guardian journalists seem unable to comprehend that the journalism habitat they work in has been shaped by corporate advertisers.

But shaped it certainly has been. Since the renewed expansion of the Guardian’s US online presence in 2011, the centre of gravity of the newspaper’s online coverage and recruitment focus has shifted across the Atlantic. 

This shift was driven by commercial interests. According to Andrew Miller, the CEO of the Guardian Media Group, the move to the US was centred on a strategy to “increase the commercial opportunity of our readership.” Or as he put it later in the same interview, to “monetise the readership.” 

Two years later the Guardian’s website went global changing its domain from to Tanya Cordrey, the Chief Digital Officer at Guardian News and Media, explained why: 
“This will open up more worldwide commercial possibilities for us in markets across the globe, enabling us to offer our partners and advertisers increased access to our growing global audience.”
In early 2014 the Guardian signed a “seven-figure” deal with corporate giant Unilever. The partnership established Guardian Labs, a “branded content and innovation agency” with 133 staff “which offers brands bold and compelling new ways to tell their stories and engage with influential Guardian audiences.” We certainly aren’t in Kansas anymore.

The Guardian regularly publishes sponsored content in the main part of the newspaper, including a roundtable on sustainable diets funded by Tesco and a seminar on public health reform sponsored by drug firm Pfizer.

Indeed, what is the Guardian’s glossy Weekend magazine if not one giant advert? In 2013 the magazine’s blind date feature had one lucky couple jetting off to Los Angeles for the weekend courtesy of Air New Zealand. 

The previous October over 100,000 people marched in London in opposition to the most severe cuts to public spending since WWII. On the same day the Weekend magazine thought it appropriate to publish an interview with actress Romola Garai accompanied by a photo shoot of her advertising a £5,800 dress.

All this is not to say the Guardian is worthless or shouldn’t be read. Far from it. There are many great writers doing brilliant work published in the Guardian — Monbiot and Jones among them — and many important news reports too. I buy the Guardian every day, and have even written for the paper a couple of times when they let me. 

What I'm arguing is we need to go beyond wishful thinking about Guardian exceptionalism and seriously consider how corporate advertising and commercial interests influences, and likely limits, the breadth and depth of the editorial content of the newspaper.

This enlightening process is essential for positive social change. Because only once we understand the deficiencies of even our best media outlets can we begin to realise that radical alternatives are needed. And only once we have a clear understanding of what those problems are can we start to imagine what a better media will actually look like.

By Ian Sinclair

First published here. 

1 comment:

  1. Thanks Mick, a fine piece, which poses valid questions as to how and where one accesses factual and accurate information.

    No easy answer, save to recognise that there's more than likely some inherent biases towards the author's values and opinions or those of his employers in most reporting. And at the same time acknowledging that the information is probably contaminated by commercial/financial considerations also.

    While such considerations are obviously within the discerning reader's circle of concern there is very little the reader or the 'purchaser' of any information can bring to bare in terms of influence on such matters save bringing awareness of all that and a healthy scepticism (let the buyer be aware).

    All of that and perhaps more importantly when 'purchasing' any dissemination, habitually taking a position of the observing-self ... from the 'observing-self' perspective we'll tend to be more nuanced in our interpretation and less likely to be seduced by our own confirmation biases.